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It is a day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., a holiday which always falls on the third Monday in January. So I will try not to get too upset about anything in the news; well, maybe one thing, which I will write about below, but mostly try to think of lighter things.

I will note that I have gotten the word in WORDLE all six times I have played. The first three times, I got the word on the fifth guess. The next time, the fourth guess, then the third, and today the fourth. But of course I do not want to be overconfident, as there are possibly tricky words they could come up with.

My major worry is if there were the sequence _A_ED. There are many words with different letters which could fit in there,. And apparently suffixes and plurals can be used, so there are rarer letters in TAXED, WAXED, VAXED (is that a word now?), FAZED, HAZED GAZED,, CAPED, JAPED, VAPED (is that a word now?), BAKED, CAKED, WAKED, JAWED. And now does one test all those out in a few remaining guesses? I am trying to figure out a strategy to deal with that, if I can. I will be disappointed if and when I finally miss one or two of the words. No quitting when you are ahead, as in blackjack or poker!

Now I will mention one irritating thing, which is personified in Chuck Todd of MSNBC and NBC, who is the epitome of a so-called broadcast journalist who acts like he is always being reasonable and fair, but is actually always echoing Republican talking points, no matter how illogical they are.

I do not ever watch his “Meet the Press” show. I think I stopped watching MTP, with Frank McGee decades ago, as I have read that virtually every week, whoever is the host has a lineup stacked with Republicans, with perhaps a token “liberal,” and that whatever is discussed on the show is invariably a criticism of Democrats, particularly if one is President, while Republicans are always catered to.

Well, it seems that yesterday, Todd blamed President Biden for not passing a Voting Rights Bill, saying, “Outside of the infrastructure bill, which was a big win, Mr. Biden has not been able to put together a small government coalition of Republicans to do the public bipartisan effort that some swing state Democrats have pleaded. “

Now, it is Todd, and so why should we be surprised; but it is on national TV, and of course it gets picked up by the rest of the media. So Todd, who has been on the air for years, who purports to have a great knowledge of the political world, thinks that the reason that Voting Rights is not being passed is because Biden has failed to get Republicans to vote for it?

The reasons that Republicans are not voting for it, are: 1) They always, always, vote in line with what McConnell wants them to do, and they certainly never break ranks to vote with Democrats on voting rights issues. 2) The Republicans are unanimously, in the House, the Senate, the state legislatures, against any voting rights laws. The only laws on voting they are for, are those which limit and suppress the vote. The evidence for this is seen every single day.

And Todd cannot figure this out? He thinks that Biden has failed here? This is not only utterly biased in perception, it is another case of the media setting up an impossible standard, and then blaming Democrats for not reaching it. “Why hasn’t Biden ended the pandemic?” “Why can’t he halt inflation?” Well, for one, those are worldwide problems seen everywhere, they are not somehow relegated to this country.

The problem, and the answers, particularly to inflation, can only be found through understanding the general worldwide causes, which are basically a very fast increase in demand after 2020, and suppliers either not ramping up fast enough to meet it, or deliberately limiting supply to gouge profits. It is a problem which must be dealt with, as Biden doggedly tries to deal with all sorts of things which he certainly did not cause.

But we know that the Republican game is to take any possible negative event or trend, and blame it on the Democrat in charge. No one expects Republicans to have any solutions, that is not required of them by the media. Republicans actually have no solutions to anything, unless someone actually thinks that cutting taxes even more on corporations, and letting them pollute at will, is some kind of answer.

So the daily news is mostly “Let’s blame Biden for everything,” while the Republicans are not supposed to, or required to, do anything. They are all against voting rights, but that’s okay, because they are Republicans. It’s up to Democrats to somehow get them to change.

This would seem equivalent to telling the abused wife or bullied child that it is their fault that their tormenter is acting that way. Or it is the Neville Chamberlain approach, thinking that somehow you can work with the epitome of evil, whose only intent is to destroy you. Now, this is obvious to us, but not to Mr. Todd, or the rest of the people who get on TV and spend their day attacking the Democrats for failing to pass a bill that every single Republican will not only vote against, but will do everything they can to even keep it from getting to the floor for debate, because they think it might hurt their ability to purvey their lies, and show them for the totalitarians they are.

But the media will persist in framing this in the most ludicrous way possible. Do they believe it? Are they given talking points every day by the executives at the stations? Are they effectively pre-selected by these executives, as people who will consistently take the right-wing perspective? Is it some kind of “groupthink” among these people?

It doesn’t really matter, because they know that they will keep doing it. Ratings do not seem to matter, their shows are apparently “loss leaders,” where the executives get more of what they want, by keeping the shows and the propaganda going. Maybe someday, Todd and Mitchell and the others will say so many palpably ridiculous things, that virtually everyone will turn off both them and their secondary echoers and magnifiers. Until that much hoped-for day, I try very hard to avoid Todd, and Meet the Press, and all of what becomes another implement of the Far Right propaganda machine.

And there are some journalists who point this inanity out, so that is at least something, though I wonder how many people they reach, as compared to the people who make careers out of framing every single issue and story in the way that most benefits Republicans.

Okay, now back to the more positive things. But can I first complain just a bit about the TV writer Sarah Phelps, who seemed to deliberately try to ruin Agatha Christie novels in her TV adaptations of them, and who now apparently is on the way to making “A Very British Scandal,” about the Duchess of Argyll, starring the superb Claire Foy, a vehicle for her particular take on things, and a show devoid of charm? I will slog through it. But stay far away from anything she did regarding Poirot, whom she invented in “The ABC Murders” as someone who did not actually come from Belgium, was never a detective, as he claimed, and was formerly a priest. Yes, that is what she created to indulge herself. Boo!!

Happy MLK Day!

Another “Morning After” Realization

“I’m Raymond Donziger, anchoring the news, and today we are talking about the important election race in Markville. As you probably know, Mr. Blue was expecting to win this race, and he was leading in the polls. But when his opponent Mr. Redd started to focus the race on the vodka issue, things began to turn around for him. Redd claimed that Blue was going to hand out bottles of vodka to the students in all the high schools of the state. He based this on a picture of Blue taking a drink of vodka at a dinner party, and raising his glass in approval.

“Redd has focused his campaign on the promise that while he claims that Blue is a proponent of vodka, and supports getting drunk, Redd is against alcoholism, and will keep it out of the schools. At this point, no student is allowed to drink at a high school campus, and possession of alcohol by minors is illegal in the state. But Redd is making gains with the contention that if Blue wins, alcohol will be freely dispensed to everyone, no matter what age. Blue is trying to keep talking about the state budget, domestic violence, and the environment, but the vodka issue is swamping his efforts.”

“Carla Ortega reporting from the site of Mr. Redd’s big rally on the eve of the election. Redd is seizing on his campaign’s momentum, where he has turned a ten-point deficit into a two point gain in the last two weeks, hammering away at Mr. Blue on the vodka issue, which a recent poll showed that the people of Markville are now saying is the most important factor in their upcoming vote. At the rally, Redd has brought descendants of the members of the Temperance Union, as well as victims of drunk drivers, who claim that Blue is going to turn the children of the state into alcoholics who will be either criminals or homeless drunks. ‘Not in our state!’ ‘Liquor is evil!’ ‘Down with John Barleycorn.’ Chants we have not heard for over a hundred years, but we are hearing them tonight.”

“Bob Davis from election headquarters, where Mr. Blue has just conceded to Mr. Redd, in what was a race he was almost certain to win, but has lost because of Redd’s very effective campaigning. In Redd’s victory speech, he promised as his first act to make possession of liquor by high school students illegal. Another big pickup for Redd’s party, which seems to be able to capture the key issues of the day, and convince voters that they are the ones who will deal with them.”

What am I going on about? I just noted that newly elected Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia signed eleven executive orders on his first day of office. He banned Critical Race Theory from public education, where it has never been taught. He also ended the schoolwide mask mandate, and rescinded the vaccine mandate for state employees.

Youngkin also removed the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion section from the Virginia Governor’s website. It was reported that “Today, the incoming (Virginia) AG fired, along with many others, the incoming Conviction Integrity Unit. With no notice. I found out at 10am. Two of my colleagues found out at 4pm. I’m so sorry for to all the people we didn’t get to help.” This Unit was tasked with trying to make sure that people were not fraudulently convicted of crimes.

And another report said “He (Youngkin) just fired staff working on grant-funded human trafficking projects, including a case manager with an active client caseload, working with juvenile trafficking victims. No warnings, no transition, no plans to handle client meetings and court dates in the days/months ahead.”


And that once again shows how easily people are manipulated into thinking that the fake issue that Republicans and their echo chamber invent and amplify in each election, is the one they should vote on; and thus hand the Republican totalitarians the victory they need to do all sorts of inhumane and repressive things. As an old comic strip used to say, “They’ll Do It Every Time.” The Republicans, and the people they trick into voting for them.

Every time. Boston Harbor. Sighing during a debate. The candidate’s wife. Emails. There are an endless number that the Republicans can make up, and then they stampede the electorate into thinking that they must come out and vote for their candidate, to save the state and country from decadence and corruption. And they also convince many voters on the other side to stay home, which is almost as good as a plus vote, in a zero-sum game.

And so the Virginia gubernatorial race became about CRT, which was not taught in any of the schools, but you didn’t hear that very often from anybody. And the forces of totalitarianism, which are all of the Republicans, no matter what kind of haircut they have, or clothes they wear, or their personas, use this to take away rights and protections, the “cancel culture” that they use to attack their opponents, when they are the ones taking them away.

There is not much use to dwell on this; the people of Virginia, not all of them, but enough of them, made a terrible mistake. Just as all those people from the Far Left, and the media, let the insane fascist Trump gain control of the country; hide a deadly pandemic and cost the lives of almost a million people; further ruin the environment; and fill the Supreme Court with the kind of Radical Right judges that have perhaps never been seen in its history. All because of “emails,” which if you asked any voter about now, they could not tell you what that was about, or what Hillary was supposed to have done or not done regarding emails.

Because it never mattered, it was never anything but a dupe to try to win an election. And every time, after the election, people say that this was awful, that this should not happen again–but then it does. Not to everybody; there are informed and rational voters out there. But where two or three percent is enough to win most elections in swing states, that is where they are lost, when far too many people fall for the con, much like people fleeced at dice tables, or encouraged to spend their paychecks on liquor and drugs. We can’t really convince such people out of it; we can just try do what is best for us and the people we care about. But when it comes to elections, the actions or inaction of such people always directly affect things that matter to us.

So we point it out, again. And we feel sympathy for the people of Virginia, who elected a right-wing authoritarian as governor, who, as DeSantis and Abbott have, will cause more illness and death in their state, and now there is very little they can do about it. They invited the vampire in, they drank from the poisoned cup. Their doom is not inevitable, but it will be much harder to avoid. I feel very bad for them, and us. What will it take for enough people to wake up to the long con which is regularly being practiced on them?

It is Time for Drastic Action

What we are seeing are the forces which have been set up and implemented by the Far Right for decades, now playing out in full force. We know the history of this, and we know that the Democrats did not do enough to realize the threat, and to do something about it, when it was easier.

I think back to highly respected former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell being interviewed a few years ago, and saying how proud he was that even though his Democratic caucus wanted to filibuster the nomination of Clarence Thomas, he did not think that should be done; and that he was proud that he and Bob Dole worked together for a smooth process, which of course led to the confirmation of perhaps the worst Justice in Supreme Court history, though the recent ones will give him a run for his money.

Democrats trying to “do things the right way,” always extending offers of friendship to a party which has no scruples, no wish to compromise, and which always intended to bludgeon its way to absolute power, was a terrible misperception and mistake. But going over all of it, while it has some necessity, at this point is mostly a distraction from the imperatives of the present.

The decision yesterday by the Killer Court to stay the vaccine-or-test mandates for businesses of over a hundred employees, was as dreadful as it was absolutely predictable. Again, Democrats mostly tried to take the high road, with the Labor Secretary using words like “unfortunate” about the decision. But it was not a matter of fortune, it is exactly what the majority of this court is about.

There are essentially three basic principles that they stand for: 1) The federal government has no right to override any of the laws passed by states, about such matters as abortion, or what is taught in schools (DeSantis now talks about putting microphones in classrooms in Florida, to monitor what the teachers are saying to their students), or how voting is to be done, and which people are to be suppressed. 2) Religion is very important, so that anyone who voices a religious objection to anything, must be protected from it. 3) The government has no right to issue rules about anything businesses do; whether they must mandate compliance with vaccination; or regarding any attempt to constrain their right to pollute the planet into destruction.

These are all relics of a very bad era in American history, but they are far worse now, because we have many more people, and there is no frontier to escape to. Somehow the Republicans have managed to find so-called judges who are so biased, so social darwinist, so contemptuous of “the little people,” that they are actually trying to revive the Gilded Age along with Jim Crow.

And because of a terribly flawed constitutional voting system, a distinct minority of people in the South and Rocky Mountains are controlling the lives of the majority, through the power of the ludicrous Electoral College, and a Supreme Court which reflects it. As we’ve noted before, Democrats won the popular vote for President (meaning, obviously, that their candidate got more votes from American people) in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020–and yet the Far Right completely controls the Supreme Court, and may well do so for another 40 years, by which time America will be completely unrecognizable to anyone who grew up before this coup began.

So there we are. We can just shrug and accept it; we can declaim about it; we can look for other countries to move to. If we do not want to do that, we are in a position where we must fight like hell, to use a familiar phrase. Not with guns (though some fairly respected people have run prediction models which predict a fairly high chance of a Civil War in six years or so). But with every nonviolent method we have at our disposal.

There are old English sayings like, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” and “May as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” (I never liked that image, but it does sum up a situation). Also, “Play big, or go home.” When you can see the inevitable result of doing nothing, or not enough, then the only feasible choice for things that matter, is to do something drastic.

Now, that’s the easy part, realizing that. The much harder part is figuring out what it is that must be done. And we have little time to do that figuring. So here are some suggestions which one might think about (but not too long), as to how to combat the relentless force and almost impenetrable wall that the Far Right Republican Would-Be Fascist Totalitarian Party has created.

We have to add seats to the Court. We cannot wait forty years for these partisan hacks to retire. I know that adding seats seems almost impossible. But we have to make the voters understand what they are facing with this court, which surely will take away all sorts of rights which we previously had, because that is their point of view. And it is not “unfortunate,” or “well, let’s see what they do this time,” it is pre-determined by their natures, their enablers, and the dark forces which want that dark version of America to control things forever.

So we have to make adding Justices a major rallying cry. Of course the largely corrupt and compliant media will act outraged, how dare the Democrats try to change the makeup of the court, which Americans had chosen? Well, they didn’t choose it, as noted above Did giving Bill Clinton and Gore and Obama and Hillary and Biden popular vote victories show that the people wanted this Radical Right Court? The will of the people is being subverted by an electoral system which does not represent the democratic will of the voters. So adding court seats, far from being “an attempt to rig the system,” would be an effort to have the system reflect the will of American voters.

That is the argument, and we had better make it, over and over. It is just possible that we can get through to enough people that we can win some crucial elections. If we don’t, at least we fought for it, and did not shrink back out of inappropriate caution. Make adding seats to the Supreme Court a cornerstone of campaigns, because if we don’t, representative democracy and individual rights are lost. Make the case that strongly. Even with it, gaining enough of Congressional majorities to actually implement adding seats, is a major longshot, but you can’t win on a longshot unless you bet on it. The major theme here ,and with all of these suggestions, is “exigency” and “necessity.”

Get rid of the filibuster. We need as few as 50 actual Democrats (that does not include Manchin and Sinema) in the Senate, to change the rule. It is doable. It should be a major campaign issue, not just a vague wish.

Biden and his cabinet should start issuing all sorts of executive orders on important matters like climate, natural resources, protection of lands. Force the Supreme Court to keep blocking them. At the least, that will show people what we are up against, and how necessary it is to give Democrats the majorities they need to overcome it.

Start calling Republicans what they are, every hour of every day. Stop trying to be nice to them, and imagining that we can all work together. Because we can’t. Not one single Republican will vote for the Voting Rights Act! Not one of them voted for the BBB. They are a totalitarian force akin to a cult which has only one goal, to hold power.

Compromising with them is actually an impossibility, like compromising with Al Capone. So at least take the time to keep reminding voters what a dreadful force that Republicans are, and the threat to democracy they pose. Maybe the populace won’t care, is disinterested. Or the media will spin everything in their favor. All we can do is try. Skirting around it, trying to act as if it is still the 1950’s or 1970’s, is both fruitless and very damaging.

Republicans now indicate that they will refuse to participate in any election debates. That is an easy one for our side, it shows how totalitarian they are. They do not want to debate issues, they do not even want to discuss issues, because for them there are no issues, there is just brute power. We should start running ads about this right now, not wait until the elections. Again, the theme is the totalitarianism of the Republicans, and how they want to eliminate democracy. Absurdly, we sort of let them pretend that they are defending democracy against us, against socialism. Debating the definition of socialism is fun, but completely wrong here; we need to be on the attack, and we need to use the word “fascism” to describe Republicans.

Boycotts. Actually try to punish those states filled with people who hate Democrats, and who want to impose laws and restrictions upon everyone in the country. Florida is a good choice. Stop going to Florida for vacations. Stop buying their products. Stop watching sports events where their teams participate. And be visible about it. After all, it is the American Way, nonviolent protest.

That also leads me to wonder why more Black athletes who care about issues, do not stop going to schools in those states to play sports. Just a thought.

There are more such ideas, feel free to suggest. The important thing is that we are the ones who have to fight for the democracy, not those band of marauders whom Trump unleashed on the Capitol. We are not violent, we are not stupid and ignorant. But analyzing, and writing papers in journals ultimately has a limited effect. We are losing ground–not in all areas (we have just won some Special Elections)– but in many. And the cumulative force of Republican lawlessness, hypocrisy, and a Supreme Court handpicked by literal billionares like Betsy Devos, will swamp us, unless we fight with everything we’ve got. And if we lose, at least we fought as hard as we could, realizing what the other side is, and how necessary it is to combat them at all levels. Give it our best shot, figuratively of course. In for a penny, in for our democracy and planet.


It’s the new word game that’s sweeping the nation!! Well, perhaps not, but it is apparently becoming popular among those of us who like word games.

I only learned about it yesterday, just from looking at some Twitter posts (I don’t seem to be able to access the comments on Twitter anymore; maybe I could by clearing caches and such computer stuff, but I am probably better off not scrolling through comments, as I would find myself wanting to snap back at some of these people, but I don’t want to go through that). Anyway, I saw that such literate and liberal people as Joyce White Vance and Julie Zebrak were writing about Wordle, so I was able to find it.

It is a word game, similar in some ways to “Hangman,” or “Ghost,” or even “Wheel of Fortune.” All you have to do is look it up online, as it is available on all browsers, and then you can play. There is only one game per day; there are no prizes, no signups, it is just a fun game, which someone somewhere will make money marketing, but what do we care?

The object is to guess the word of always five letters ,that is apparently computer-generated. I do not know the boundaries: can a word be a suffix, or plural, I hope not. But I did learn that a letter can be used twice.

You have six guesses at the word. You type in a word of five letters and enter it, and they will show if you got any of the letters. If none of the ones you used are in the word, then it will show gray or black for them. If you got a letter or two, but not in the right spot in the word, then it will show yellow for those.. If you got one or more in the exact spot they appear, it will show green. Then you use that information to make the next guess.

I think that I am very good at word games, but I am sure others are, too, I do not have data to compare. So I was fairly confident when I tried for the first time yesterday. I would never read anything which gave tips on how to play, it would take the fun out of it. So I just jumped in ,and for no particular reason but a feeling, I guessed EAGER. The screen showed that I had actually gotten the A and the R, and in the right spot in the word! That is probably very unusual, and cannot at all be counted on.

That helped a lot. I figured that if a word ended in R, it would likely be ER, but it couldn’t be, because the E was not second to last, as I had guessed with EAGER, and in fact there was no E in the word at all, since it showed that only A and R were in the word. So to rule out a somewhat strange possible combination, and also to test out more consonants, I guessed SATYR. It only showed the A and R as correct, as before.

So then I figured it must end with OR, so I guessed MANOR. Not correct, and no M or N in the word, but O was indeed the fourth letter. So then I tried LABOR. Again, not correct. I then guessed FAVOR, which seemed to be one of the only words remaining that it could be, since VALOR could not be correct, as the word had no L in it. And I was right, and I got it, in five guesses. I suppose that some try to get it in the least guesses, which is fine, but if they give you six, I will use six, if I need to, to narrow down the possibilities. You do see that the guesses are not necessarily actual guesses as to the word, but to narrow down the letters in the word.

So I wanted to play again today, and I tried to think of some strategies, without overdoing it, as it might spoil the game, if one figured out too much. And today’s was harder, but I got it on the fifth guess again after spending about half an hour pondering what the guess should be. I had made four guesses and never gotten one letter in the right place, though I had gotten three of them for the word. I had feared that I had locked myself out of getting this, by not having more effective word possibilities left to put in as guesses (I hope that they will not let someone guess non-words, such as AEIOU or CDFKP, at the outset, that they have to be actual words). But then I had a flash of insight, and I got it, and then put in the fifth guess, and bingo.

You might want to try. It may well be fairly easy after one does it for a week or two, but it is fun now. And we all need diversions; and word games are a quick and enjoyable thing to do, as long as one doesn’t spend hours a day on crosswords, as some do. And actually, that is not so bad, either, although fresh air is important; but right now, staying in is a better idea, if one can.

Choices Going Forward

Well, as seems to be more and more the case, there is bad news regarding efforts by good people to stymie or reverse the decades of work by bad people to destroy American democracy. And it’s not fun to recount them, though obviously they can’t be ignored. But who wants to read doomsaying or depressing things, without at least some positive thoughts as well? There is this need to balance unsettling facts with some hopefulness. It is sometimes not easy, though.

I am surely not the only person getting the sense that neither of the bills intended to restore voting rights is going to pass in the Senate. As I wrote the other day, it is infuriating to me to keep hearing some people called voting rights activists attacking and blaming Biden for not doing enough to get the bills passed. Once again we see people who appear to have little knowledge of how government works. One of them said yesterday that Biden “must use the full force of his power to get Manchin and Sinema to vote for these bills.”

And what power is that? How does he compel or force Manchin to decide that he will carve out an exception to the filibuster, after he has said many times that he thinks that keeping the filibuster is essential to democracy? It is not, of course, it is undemocratic in conception and practice. But Manchin doesn’t see it that way, and he will not. So these bills will be brought to a vote, and the Republicans will filibuster them, and Manchin and very possibly Sinema will not do anything to carve out an exception to the filibuster for the imperative of voting rights, and the bills will fail, as Republicans always knew and intended that they would.

“Simple arithmetic,” as Jean Gillies said in her brilliant performance in the great noir film “Decoy.” It was low-budget, but very well written; and Gillies, who tragically died in her 30’s, turned in one of the greatest femme fatale performances in film noir history. It is well worth seeing; not that watching it is going to change the bad political news; but we need distractions, and ways to help draw ourselves away from the relentless beat of what the Republicans are doing to the country.

They have set up this system where they appear to hold all the levers and blocks, which they employ whenever needed. We won the Senate, at least nominal control, with our fifty seats, but they included Manchin and Sinema. Maybe that is the best we could get out of those states right now. Surely we would be much better off had we won some additional Senate seats, in Maine, North Carolina, Iowa. But we did not.

Maybe some of the voting rights activists who are spending their energy complaining about Biden, and those who simply refused to show up for Biden’s visit to Georgia, because “he is not doing enough,” or “he should have done it sooner,” should have worked harder to win some additional Senate seats. Maybe some of them did, but it was not enough, because too many voters refuse to understand that when you vote for any Republican, you are voting for them all, they all vote the same way.

“My Republican in my state is better, he/she is a moderate,” is one of the most naive and damaging opinions possible. All Republicans vote the same on voting rights bills, they always oppose them. Republicans, who possess no underlying principles whatsoever, except for winning, have learned that if they all vote in lockstep, they form a shield wall, which is almost impossible to break, because the anti-populist way that the Senate was created, gives disproportionate power to rural voters in small states. And that combined with the “Senate rule” they created of the filibuster, gives the small and Far Right states the essential veto power over virtually any non-budget bill that the Democrats would ever try to pass.

This has been the reality for decades now, but not many people see it. As far as I recall, there was only one major bill passed during the entire eight years of Obama’s presidency, the ACA, passed when Democrats held a sizeable majority; and even then the bill was watered down, and barely passed. For the other eight years. Obama just made speeches, and watched his lower court judges get blocked; until Harry Reid finally had to change the filibuster rule; after which McConnell blew up the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees, and blamed it on Reid.

And similarly, as much as Biden has tried to do in his one year in office, and as many good things as he has done (today the White House is releasing a statement that seven federal agencies are announcing specific plans to deal with climate change), he cannot pass any legislation which is not subject to the budget exception found by the parliamentarian years ago. Otherwise, the Senate only exists for Republicans to get their own Supreme Court judges confirmed, and to attack great public servants like Dr. Fauci. And so many “progressive Democrats” don’t seem to comprehend this, and so blame Biden for the impasse blocks which Republicans have spent their time constructing.

So likely no voting rights bills; and the Supreme Court, also carefully packed by Republicans,, using the same structural advantages and methods, is not going to overturn the most blatant gerrymandering or vote suppression bills done by states. So the terrain we see now, is very likely what we will face in the upcoming election; with many Democrats who get on TV, complaining that this is Biden’s fault (“we gave him 50 seats!”), or Hillary’s fault, or the fault of Democrats in general. Which is not only wrong, but does no good at all.

So, like all armies, we have to fight on the terrain we are confronted with. That would mean, somehow winning the next elections. It may be impossible, given the vote suppression? Yes. but perhaps not. Dave Wasserman, who works for the Cook Report polling and voting analysis organization, recently wrote that Democrats actually have a path to winning the House, though several not impossible, but difficult, things have to happen.

One of them is Biden’s favorable polling numbers to be closer to 50% than 45%. That is possible, but it would take a number of so-called Democrats who spend their time complaining about Biden, to understand that he is the only chance they have right now. Some of them don’t seem to care, so imbued as they are with their own self-righteousness. Of course, others do greatly care, and they should speak out forcefully about that.

I happened to see Stuart Stevens on TV; and while he was in the “enemy camp” as a political guru who ran Republican presidential campaigns, I saw him as a decent person, better than his cohorts. Last year, he wrote the book, “It Was All a Lie,” in which he realized that all the things his party had been saying and promising, were just convenient subterfuges designed to win elections, they did not mean any of them. He has continued to make that point, and he just said that he supports Democrats to win elections right now, as the only way to possibly save his party is for the Trumpism to be destroyed.

I imagine that he has retired from campaign work, but if he is interested, I would certainly recommend that Democratic officials offer him some advisory job, because he knows the Republicans better than almost anybody; and we know that Republicans are willing to do things in campaigns which Democrats seem to shrink from. Wars have been won by managing to get a few of the key enemy personnel over to your side, and then taking advantage of their expertise and skills.

We are in some sense depending on Jamie Harrison, the new head of the DNC. He speaks forcefully, but it remains to be seen how well he can strategize and allocate resources. It is in retrospect, but a lot of money was wasted in 2020 on various senate races which it turned out we did not have much chance to win. And I think we should start attacking now in a general way; and that much of it should be centered on what Biden has accomplished and is trying to accomplish, and would, if he had more seats. And just as importantly, that if Republicans gain control, they will shut down the government, impeach Biden for spite, try to pass major tax cuts for the rich, block every single bill Biden tries to pass, and end the economic recovery. We must give voters significant reasons to vote, and tell them what will happen if they don’t, even if the media instantaneously and invariably calls it “bad tactics” or “fear-mongering.” And then of course we must find ways to enable them to vote.

It would greatly help if Democrats pulled together, rather than carped, particularly when it is born out of not understanding how government works, and the difficulties of getting bills past a lockstep Republican determination to block everything; plus the filibuster. Just think, if Democrats could somehow gain two Senate seats (PA and WI?), we could perhaps get rid of the filibuster, although of course it would not help us much if we lost the House, but it would be a start, which is what we need, a start to breaking the stranglehold which the Republicans have gained over democratic institutions.

It would be very helpful, not to mention calming, if the media would somehow stop turning everything into “optics,” and, “this will be bad for Biden.” The media simply takes Republicans for what they are, like a given physical reality, with no connotation, and it is always the Democrats who are negatively commented on.

For one of countless examples, the fact that not one single Republican is going to vote for any Voting Rights bill, is not criticized, it is simply a reality for the media. And “how it hurts Biden and Democrats” is the theme, not what Republicans are doing to destroy democracy. No one in the media blames any Republicans now in office for anything at all. It is very strange, almost psychotic, as if they can only see one figure on a screen and not the other one. But it is what they do, every single time, as if they are programmed (or paid) to. It is a major impediment. They must really want the Republicans to win.

So it is certainly not a positive situation, though a fairer media would make it seem less negative. It is imperative that people who are basically on the good side, try to understand that this is a war against a very dangerous, virtually insane foe, the Republican Party and its enablers, and that we do not need to hear a daily recitation of how they are disappointed at Biden and Democrats in this, or angry at that. Unless they are making money, in some way: funds, TV time, or publicity, out of it, and are really not that much on our side at all. Money and publicity can corrupt most people, as was portrayed in the movie “Network.”

I think that there was a generation in America which understandably lost faith and regard for our government leaders; and then succeeding generations continued this, to where there is a segment of people who like to call themselves liberal or progressive who are so cynical. and so demanding as part of an identity wing, that they don’t like any of the Democratic leaders–except that they liked Obama for a while. This could finally lead to the evolutionary end of the Democratic Party, shattered into factions. Or necessity could somehow cause them to come together for a common great effort. Some of the people from Atlanta who I saw interviewed yesterday, seemed to have that hope and perception. It really is up to human nature, and what people are capable of in times of crisis.

The Killer Court Prepares to Strike Again

That will be the way that I think people should refer to the institution in this country which was always known as The Supreme Court. I know that they won’t, but why should we give honor to a body which is now filled with partisan hacks and zealots who were put in specifically to act as a rubber stamp for Far Right policies, and to block any legislation or federal rules which might run counter to the Religious Right people who put them on the Court?

This was so very predictable; and now that they have gotten their “supermajority,” the Court is prepared to impose their own version of America. They essentially threw out a very important decision which had been the law for fifty years, which permitted a woman to have a legal abortion during at least the first trimester of pregnancy. In so doing, they violated the formerly sacrosanct tradition of stare decisis, the power of previous legal decisions and the principles they expressed.

Now, they are ready to toss out the vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses employing over a hundred workers, which was issued by OSHA, created in 1970, and based on Congressional power to regulate interstate commerce as expressed in the Constitution. The statute gave the Agency the right to issue “emergency rules” when it deems them necessary to protect workers from “grave danger.”

So President Biden, attempting to deal with a horrifying pandemic which has killed over 800,000 people in this country, and trying to prevent its wider spread, and also to keep businesses functioning, issued this Order, requiring companies which employ over a hundred workers to mandate that each employee either show proof of vaccination or negative COVID testing.

This kind of thing is anathema to the Right Wing, which once claimed that all of FDR’s actions regarding business and the workplace were unconstitutional, including the National Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, and the minimum wage, which the Supreme Court, filled with “The business of America is business” Republican President appointees, ruled violated the “freedom to contract” between workers and companies. This fiction was that a desperately needy worker should have the “right” to accept the miserly employer’s offer of five cents an hour, for an eighty-hour work week, and that the federal government and the states had no right to interfere with this. This of course was social darwinism, validated by the Supreme Court.

Ultimately that decision was reversed by a somewhat different Supreme Court, and thus the greatest Court threat to democracy was averted. But the Right-Wing hatred of government which dares to interfere in the powers of businesses and corporations, has never gone away. They hated FDR, they hated LBJ. They want the government to have no power to control any of the decisions made by corporate boards. And now they have their packed Supreme Court to get rid of over a hundred years of American progress in protecting the rights of workers.

So that is why the Far Right brought this case regarding the vaccine mandates to the Court, and that is why the Court’s majority are getting prepared to invalidate them, at least judging from their hearings so far. Already, it seems clear that Justices Gorsuch, Alito, Kavanaugh, Thomas, and Roberts are ready to invalidate the Order, and I would expect Barrett to go along, too, though they only need five, as we know.

They seem to be ready to find that such an Order could only be passed by Act of Congress. That is perhaps less a constitutional belief on their part, than a devious way of dumping the law, which of course their handy tool of the filibuster would stop in its tracks, if Congress ever tried to pass it. Further, some of the language of the justices in hearings is almost incredible in the way it mirrors the anti-vaxxer dialogue of social media.

Obviously, the invalidation of the mandates for business would risk the lives of millions of people. Thus, the legitimate appellation “The Killer Court.” Even more upsetting than this, is the situation where a few attorneys, appointed to the so-called Supreme Court by a president who lost the national popular vote twice, and who were confirmed by a Senate which is controlled by a definite minority of the population, can make the decision regarding safety and medical guidance, rather than the elected Administration and its medical experts. Simply put, the Far Right intends to completely control national policy through this packed Supreme Court, whose members will impose their own personal views upon the entirety of the population.

One of the right-wing justices suggested that in lieu of a national mandate order, the states could impose their own mandates. But as one of the small minority of non-right-wing justices replied, there are some states which have banned any mandates. So we are going to leave each state to make up its own rules, and there is no way for there to be a government rule to protect citizens? Yes, that is the classic social darwinist position. We will not protect you.

That of course is inimical to the concept of democracy where an elected government has some power to try to insure the health and safety of its citizens. Of course, in an extreme case, this could go too far, as if a state somehow demanded that every employee be forced to eat kale. But no one does that, of course; whereas if there is a national pandemic, who is going to try to protect workers who need their jobs, cannot easily change them, and are forced to sit in enclosed spaces for at least eight hours a day, five days a week? The Killer Court, whose members are protected by a number of strict health rules and protocols, do not care about the rest of the population, they believe they are superior, their version of “droit de seigneur.” You might find it interesting that two of the attorneys who are arguing against the mandates in this case, are doing it from home, because they have Covid.

There is another half to this case, which involves a vaccine mandate for almost all workers at hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical providers which receive Medicare or Medicaid funds. The Court would perhaps let that stand, to muddy the waters about what they are doing to 80 million Americans who work for companies which employ a hundred or more workers, and whose limited but important protection from Covid will be eradicated by their imperial decision.

This decision, when it is announced, will not only be as devastating to the national perception as the recent and upcoming decisions on abortion, it will absolutely cement the intention of this Court to send us back to the Gilded Age, where a few immensely rich people rode in opulent carriages which literally or figuratively ran over the sick and dying people who were living on the streets of the major cities, and where people lived ten-deep in one room-apartments in tenement slums, and who if they were injured or sickened at work, were fired, and left to die.

That was an America which it took a hundred years of brave workers, committed presidents and legislators; unions, and courageous novelists and journalists, to somewhat ameliorate. But the royalist and social darwinist forces which had to cede some of their power, never stopped wanting to get it back. And now they are apparently going to reach another rung on their ladder, with a decision which will be as usual, filled with legal jargon, and false statements of reasonableness, but will in reality be no more than the Religious Right’s version of “l’etat, c’est moi.”

In this rare case, they may be even going against the wishes of many corporation owners, who realize the value in protecting the safety and confidence of their employees. But it is not just corporatists who packed and control the Supreme Court, it is know-nothing, pseudo-religious haters of science and medicine, the ones who fill the media with lies and stupidity about the danger of vaccines, the value of insane quack remedies (the current one is drinking urine each day to prevent Covid), and how getting vaccinated, and wearing a mask is the ultimate assault against “American liberty and freedom,” words they love to use, and have no comprehension of their historical meaning.

And let us give a nod of contempt to all those people who said and acted as if the Supreme Court did not matter, and all those media which treated those who said otherwise, with disdain and mockery. They are all participants in this, some more than others, but all guilty.

Among all the other things we need to do, we must find a way to limit the power of the Supreme Killer Court. States can try to impose their own mandates, though there are forces even in liberal states which will fight against any efforts to tell them what to do or not do, while they are thrilled that the Court is going to tell women that they cannot have an abortion. Maybe more businesses will impose their own mandates, and trust to the marketplace to push workers away from companies where it is every person for him/herself, and toward them.

Maybe tens of millions of Americans will be so upset at this dreadful impending decision, that they will figure out that they don’t want to keep voting for Republicans. That is what happened in the 1900’s, when the Progressive Movement, swept many of them out of office. One can always hope. But meanwhile we must imagine the effects of what the Court is going to do to Americans through this decision; and it certainly won’t just be the “libs” to whom Kavanaugh arrogantly promised, “What goes around, comes around,” who will suffer because of it.

Fitness 2022: Brand New Nikes

You may ask why I post these crappy photos of my treadmill workout. I don’t know. It’s my brand.

Speaking of brands. I need a new pair of shoes. My old Nikes are dead. They are ex-workout shoes. They have joined the choir… ok, I won’t belabor the point. The point is that I’ve tried other running shoe brands in the past and they always gave me inflamed knees.

I’ve seen good things about the Nike Pegasus. Has anyone tried them? (Yes, it does have to be Nikes.) Any other recommendations? I’m about 95% back from my sprained ankle. I usually feel a little sore spot on my right foot outer edge the morning after the treadmill. I’m picking up my speed and am psychologically ready to run but I don’t want any setbacks. Recommendations for shoes with good cushioning and stability are what I’m looking for. Pronation isn’t my problem.

Also, I think I need to do the treadmill regularly, as in at least once a day for 2-3 miles. I would need a treadmill in my basement to ensure consistent use. It would correspond to all the walking I did when I was commuting to downtown Pittsburgh before the lockdown and Great Empudgening of 2020. My jeans are too tight. The struggle is real. So any budget treadmill recommendations also welcome. I’m kind of nervous about buying an old one. Looking at a Solo.

Cool down over, I’m going home to do a second proof on some bread dough. Have some topical cool down music:

Two Wrong Perspectives

I did not have time to see more than a few minutes of the news yesterday, so I cannot vouch for the context, but what I saw was likely quite similar to what was on all day. First, I flipped on the news for five minutes in the morning on MSNBC, and the chyron was something like, “Jobs report disappointing for second straight month.” The number of jobs created missed “estimates,” whatever that actually connotes. But the unemployment rate dropped to 3.9%!

It used to be that the only thing that the news focused on in these reports was the unemployment rate. Over and over, they gave Trump credit for this. Now we have seen Biden’s administration obtain an astounding drop in the unemployment rate, originally expected to not go under 4% until 2026. Further, there have been an immense number of jobs created. Often the numbers get increased from the last reports; I think 340,000 more jobs were added to the previous two months’ numbers, in this new report.

I am not an economist; and the “dismal science,” so-called, is full of anomalies and complexities. But by any reasonable standard, Biden and his economic team have done an incredible job in restoring the economy in one year, in all metrics. There is always a long way to go, there are always some numbers which could be better. But in terms of the number of people going back to work; in terms of salaries rising, it is incredible. Of course, inflation is an issue, and that is mostly due to pent-up demand, and the companies not having ramped up supplies sufficiently.

The problem is that the media continues to portray a picture of the economy which is negative, and very inaccurate. This allows Republicans to keep gloating about numbers which they would have held parades about had it been under Trump. And more significantly, it gives people the absolute wrong impression, even though their own experiences are positive in terms of their job situation. So it inevitably sets up the reason for Biden’s poor poll numbers. People are constantly told that things are bad economically, when they are mostly good. This is one small step away from the media constantly saying, “Vote for Republicans.” It has about the same effect, and it is appalling. If people are not told the truth, then they will come to the wrong conclusions.

So that upset me; but then in the twenty minutes more I spent watching yesterday, I saw a story on some organization in Georgia which appeared to have been running an ad, or maybe they wrote an article, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And this group, a spokeswoman for which was being interviewed, is saying that “unless Biden and Harris (scheduled to come to Georgia to emphasize voting rights) come with a firm promise to get the Voting Rights Bill through, and overcome the filibuster, we don’t want them to come here at all.”

And this Black woman, whose organization I assumed was of Black people, seemed quite proud of their stand. Again, I did not see the whole interview, so maybe I missed something. But the audacity of this appalled me. The article went on to say that Georgia had given Biden the election and the Senate, so he had better recognize that, and do what they demanded of him.

Well, first, Georgia did not give Biden the presidency, he would have won even without Georgia. One might as well say that Arizona or Wisconsin gave him the presidency. Yes, the two Senate seats were very important. But to say that Biden is beholden to Georgia, is absurd and selfish. California gave Biden by far the most electoral votes of any state. Does Biden owe California?

How about, every Democratic voter supports the party and its candidates in this crucial time, and realizes that everyone must do his or her part, since there is no alternative but to vote for all the Democrats? How about all for one, and one for all? What is this nonsense about Biden owing one particular state more than another, that Georgia is the state which gave him the presidency, so he must do what they tell him?

More importantly, how does this group propose that Biden force Manchin to change the filibuster rules? Threaten him in some way that I cannot conceive of? Take away his committee seats, which would cause McConnell to become Majority Leader? Yell at him on the phone? Wave the legendary Wand of Power at him?

We can be sure that Biden is doing everything he can think of to get Manchin and Sinema to change the filibuster rules. But how does he do it? Yes this is such an absolutely crucial time. And yes, if we do not get the Voting Rights Bill passed, we could lose the democracy. But the implication that Biden and Harris are not trying to do this, and so they should not even go to Georgia to press the issue, is insulting, to them, and to the Democratic Party. Does this group think that by writing this, they will get Biden to do the thing they want?

Democrats face many problems, as they are the only barrier against fascism. I’m sure they wish they did not have to be. But when only two Republicans, Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz Cheney, showed up at the Capitol to honor the people who battled against the violent insurrection of January 6 of last year, we can see where things stand. So this group of people in Georgia, who somehow think that it is Biden who is keeping the Voting Rights Bill from being passed, and not overcoming the filibuster, and are telling him, “Don’t come here unless you can guarantee us that you will do it,” are not only tone-deaf, but causing even more problems.

Republicans never criticize leadership. Democrats often do. There is a place for that. Sometimes I analogize Democrats to ancient democratic Athens, and Republicans to totalitarian Sparta. Democrats are really a loose amalgam of various groups. And every so often, one or more of these groups gets affronted, and complains. About a week after President Clinton was elected, some Gay groups complained that he was not living up to his promises on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” When Hillary Clinton, in the midst of the 2016 primary campaign, made a statement honoring Nancy Reagan, who had just died, and adding that she was an unseen voice in the fight against AIDS, some gay people got very angry, because President Reagan had not helped Rock Hudson, and said that they were reconsidering their support of Hillary.

These people and groups have the right to say what they want. But sometimes they go too far, and they are really just indulging themselves, and give aid to the Republicans. This is not an era where we can afford to let the Republicans win a battle. We certainly cannot, as may have been the case in earlier decades, afford to let them win the Congress or the Presidency. Because as a party, Republicans are the epitome of evil now. And because there may well not be a next time.

The Nader voters gave GW Bush the presidency, because Gore would absolutely have won Florida were it not for the 4% who voted for Nader instead. Jill Stein gave Trump the White House, along with the group of Sanders supporters who simply refused to vote for Hillary for whatever absurd and abysmally ignorant reasons that they held onto. Just imagine how different this country would be now if Gore and Hillary had been elected.

This new group might want to think about that, but they likely will not, because such groups are always so full of their own passion and certainty, and they refuse to consider the implications. It is as if the Democratic Party is always a potential hostage to one or the other of the fragments which threaten to break away from what should be a whole, in what has become a two-party, zero-sum-game framework.

We need more people to hold onto the wider perspective, and to realize the effects of blasting away at Biden or the Democratic Party, just because they are frustrated. I wish it were not this way, there should always be room for debate and different viewpoints. But maybe right now, people should keep in mind the famous warning by Benjamin Franklin, about the need to all hang together, lest we all are hanged separately. And I would like to see the Democrats as a group pushing back at the media’s almost unbelievable insistence that the economic reports are “weak” or “tepid” or “disappointing.” Because they are none of those things.

Vigil for what we lost January 6, 2021

It was a big deal in the service of the Big Lie.

There was a riot in service of an insurrection in service of a coup.

The perpetrators of the assault on our electoral system must be held accountable. No man is above the law. No man is entitled to erase the votes of millions of Americans in order to remain in power. We are a nation of laws, not of one man.

Bob Dylan and the “Ballad of a Thin Man”

In many people’s opinion, including mine, Bob Dylan was the greatest lyricist of what we can call the era of rock music. There were other great ones, too, of course, but Dylan’s were virtually unique in their imagery, though others who followed him tried to emulate it.

I am very opinionated when it comes to music, so do not be affronted if my opinions differ from yours, or from the consensus views. I think that virtually all of Dylan’s great songs, and there were so many classics, were written right up to 1966, and the double album “Blonde on Blonde.” After that, he had a very serious motorcycle accident, recuperated for over a year, and which may well have included detoxxing. During his legendary 1966 tour, it was said that there was an almost desperately intense energy; and amphetamines were a major part of him staying up virtually all day and doing concerts, with many former fans booing him because in their mind he had abandoned his role as the folk music hero, and gone over to the rock music side.

The album he next put out, “John Wesley Harding,” was very disappointing to me, not that Dylan ever needed to have people like the direction he took. When first listening to that album, played in full on the “underground radio,” I tried to search for echoes of the Dylan of “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde,” or “Bringing It All Back Home.” “All Along the Watchtower” is the song which sort of resembled that era; but the lyrics, while dramatic, were much more simple.

After that, Dylan did many albums of various types, none of which I wanted to buy, though obviously “Blood on the Tracks” became legendary. But for me, the lines “He hears the ticking of the clocks/and walks along with a parrot that talks,” epitomized how Dylan’s lyrics no longer had that incredible earlier natural yet profound quality.

Now, as we know, Dylan started as someone who much admired Woody Guthrie, and wrote songs like his, some with the “Talking” appellation, where he would talk a bit , and then sing, and then talk. Later, he evolved to becoming perhaps the greatest folk music writer of all time, though others such as Pete Seeger are on a comparable level. “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and “The Times They Are A-Changin'” are two which immediately come to mind.

Then he moved to sort of a mixture of pop and rock, with a song like “Love Minus Zero/No Limit.” And then, on “Bringing It All Back Home,” the last three unforgettable songs, “Gates of Eden,” “It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding,” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” he moved into a realm where no one else had been.

And then, on “Highway 61 Revisited,” Dylan wrote perhaps the greatest rock album ever. His lyric style became somewhat surrealistic, always filled with brilliant lines and images, writing in a way that no one in the music world had done. That year was when I first really started listening to rock music; and as someone who always loved poetry and lyrics, I was never disappointed by the complexity and effects of those lyrics.

Now, the first thing one might think when hearing songs like “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” is that the imagery is amazing, and the melodies are surprisingly good, but that the lyrics do not really make too much sense. But that would be very wrong. The thing I always felt, from the outset, about these lyrics, is that they did make sense, they were part of a whole. One doesn’t have to “understand” what each line might mean; but that each song, as a totality, expresses a devastating theme. That is what truly made Dylan a genius.

Other writers such as Gary Brooker of Procol Harum, who wrote “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” a great song, wrote lyrics which really are much more images than meaning. (“As the miller told his tale,” yes, evokes Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale,” but I am almost positive is just there for complexity). They could not reach Dylan’s level , although there were some excellent efforts. The lyrics of Arthur Lee on Love’s “Forever Changes,” are superb. Simon and Garfunkel wrote very memorable songs, and there were others. But Dylan was virtually sui generis as far as surreal lyrics which are actually powerfully meaningful.

I will take one song from “Highway 61 Revisited” and attempt to analyze it. Not that this is supposed to be a definitive analysis, by any means! I have never looked up any analyses of Dylan’s songs, so these are all my own ideas, though I am sure that there are many other people who grasp the theme of “Ballad of a Thin Man, which is the song I will explore. One doesn’t have to “understand” each word or image, they are a brilliantly effective part of a whole.

Here are the lyrics to “Ballad of a Thin Man”

You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

And you say, who is that man?

You try so hard, but you don’t understand

Just what you will say when you get home

Because something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr. Jones?

You raise up your head

And you ask, “Is this where it is?”

And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his.”

And you say, “What’s mine?” And someone else says, “Well, what is?”

And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”

But something is happening

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr. Jones?

You hand in your ticket

And you go watch the geek

Who immediately walks up to you

When he hears you speak

And says, “How does it feel to be such a freak?”

And you say, “Impossible,” as he hands you a bone

And something is happening here

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr. Jones?

You have many contacts among the lumberjacks

To get you facts when someone attacks your imagination

But nobody has any respect

In fact they all expect

You to give a check to tax-deductible charity organizations

You’ve been with the professors

And they’ve all liked your looks

With great lawyers you’ve discussed lepers and crooks

You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books

You’re very well read, it’s well known

But something is happening here

And you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr. Jones?

Well, the sword swallower comes up to you. and then he kneels

He crosses himself and then he clicks his high heels

And without further notice he asks you how it feels

And says “Here is your throat back, thanks for the loan”

And you know something is happening

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr. Jones?

Now you see this one-eyed midget

Shouting the word “Now”

And you say, “For what reason?”

And he says, “How?”

And you say, “What does this mean,”

And he screams back “You’re a cow”

“Give me some milk or else go home”

And you know something is happening

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr, Jones?

Well, you walk into the room like a camel and then you frown

You put your eyes in your pocket and your nose on the ground

There ought to be a law against you coming round

You should be made to wear earphones

Because something is happening

But you don’t know what it is

Do you, Mr. Jones?

In 1963 Dylan wrote the song “The Times They Are A-Changn” The lyrics were poetic, but not surreal. He called upon “mothers and fathers throughout the land, don’t criticize what you can’t understand,” and said that, “Your old road is rapidly aging. Get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a-changin'”

“Ballad of a Thin Man” is a different kind of take upon this theme, written in somewhat surreal, but not at all indecipherable, language. “Mr. Jones” is a prototype, a wonderfully evoked example of the person who cannot understand what is happening in this country and the world, the dramatic changes which many saw or hoped were occurring with the new generation coming of age.

So Mr. Jones is a middle-class man, or maybe even upper-middle-class, before that term was in vogue. He is well educated, he can move comfortably among the people who thought they were running things. Yet he knows something new is happening, he can see various signs. But he doesn’t really understand how momentous it is and will be. And he is not so impervious that he can’t feel discomfited and even frightened by it. The refrain, “You know something is happening/But you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr. Jones?” is both mocking and ominous, accentuated by the piano chords, which Dylan himself played sometimes in concert.

Now, some of the lyrics evoke the images of a carnival, always unsettling and potentially very dark. Dylan used such imagery in several of his songs: this one, and then “Memphis Blues Again,” and his absolute masterpiece, “Desolation Row.” The characters view or participate in a world which is distorted and threatening, one where there seems to be no comfort or refuge.

The Doors sometimes did this, as well, note the entire album, particularly the cover art, on the album “Strange Days.” The Beatles sometimes did, particularly on the song, “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” whose lyrics John Lennon said he got from an old poster that he found in an attic. All these images were very appropriate for a world which very much seemed askew and nightmarish, if one were taking it all in. And no one evoked that as unforgettably as Bob Dylan did during this period of his songwriting.

Now, to the specific lyrics. “You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand.” “The” room, somewhere that is not any room, “the” is more immediate. He’s carrying his pencil, that is his stock in trade. He is going to observe, maybe write something, likely that is how he interacts with the world, at a comfortable distance, protected by remove and intellect. But he sees somebody naked, not something you can just casually pass by, at least not if you are Mr. Jones, who is not a hippie. So how does he deal with it, what would a respectable man tell his wife? What is going on?

He raises up his hand, and says something resembling the term “That is where it’s at,” meaning, “That’s what is hip, that is what matters.” He asks rather foolishly, “Is this where it is?” Someone else replies, looking at him, “It’s his.” “What’s mine?” “Indeed, what is yours? What do you actually own, what can you lay claim to, who are you in this world?” And Mr. Jones has a flash that he is in a world that he does not understand or fit into, that things that he thought were foundations of his life are not so. And that these new people are not his friends, and that they are not going to concede to him the place in the world which he had been taking for granted; and this would create an existential crisis in anyone.

Then Mr. Jones is apparently at a carnival, literal or metaphorical. He came to watch the geek, who to me is the most unsettling figure in the carnival mythology, which is why I will never see any version of “Nightmare Alley.” Robert Bloch, who wrote “Psycho,” wrote a short story in which a witch of some sort turned the protagonist into the chicken whose head the geek bit off. I apologize for sharing this nightmarish story with you. Here, Mr. Jones, an observer of other people, is now accosted by one of them, and told that he is the actual freak. And in this new world he may well be. Many things are a matter of perspective.

Now the song goes on to say that Mr. Jones relies on the media, or people who work under him, to get him “facts,” which he can use as a protection against being confronted with uncomfortable things or people. But these people don’t really respect him, or his ideas; they do expect him to play his role as a person who thinks he is contributing to society in respectable ways.

The prototypical Mr. Jones does have a certain respect from his peers. He has discussions about abstract philosophical matters, and people, which does nothing to deal with the immediate world. He’s got his degrees and his books, and they are only an intellectual defense against reality. I have often considered that dichotomy. But Mr. Jones is lost without those defenses, it appears.

Now the most opaque stanza. The sword swallower, again a figure from a carnival or circus. He tells Mr. Jones that he has actually borrowed his throat for his act. Mr. Jones cannot abstract himself from this world, be only an observer. He is in it. Sword swallowing is dangerous, and those who are doing dangerous things are going to compel him to participate in their effects, which he cannot escape. What if the sword-swallower cuts his throat the next time he does the act?

The one-eyed midget stanza is more accessible. Another carnival figure who is compelling Mr. Jones to participate in the immediate world, willingly or unwillingly. “Now!” could be a word in any political slogan or chant, and that imperative is what the midget is focused on. Mr. Jones wants reasons for taking action, he wants to analyze. The midget only cares about the immediacy of action, the how, not the why. Mr. Jones still wants explanations. But the midget tells him (echoes of “get out of the new road if you can’t lend a hand”), that he is supposed to be performing a function, doing something to help the cause. He is not an important person, he is just a cog, but he has to do his job, provide something (metaphorical “milk”) or he is useless. It is perhaps the ultimate reduction in status for such people.

Dylan’s last verses are almost always powerful, a summing up, or a devastating finale, as in “Desolation Row,” “Memphis Blues Again,” or “Visions of Johanna.” Mr. Jones is summarized, as a smug person who thinks he is on top of things, but is not, he is out of his realm now. He is like a camel who slowly walks into a scene; he has an air of portentousness, which is now ludicrous. He doesn’t observe, “his eyes are in his pocket.” Usually, “keeping your nose to the ground” could evince careful analysis, as a detective or reporter might employ, trying to learn facts and interview people. But Mr. Jones, completely out of his comfort zone, in a place and time which is utterly foreign to him though he tries to understand,” is a pathetic figure. His nose is not “to the ground” it is “on the ground.” He ought to be made to wear earphones, so he can be tuned in, listen to the music which is much closer to the explanations that Mr. Jones is asking for.

It is a devastating portrait, I don’t think anyone has done it better, not even John Lennon in “Nowhere Man,” or any of the Kinks’ songs mocking the Conservative ethos, or some of the songs by the Jam in the 1970’s. I never have gotten tired of listening to it, even though that era was a long time ago, and at least some of the hopes of that generation never became realities. “Mr. Jones” may ultimately have become one of Nixon’s “Silent Majority” which put the country firmly in the hands of the political Right, their military budgets and wars, and their disinterest in the working class. I wish we had someone like Dylan in his prime to write songs about this era, but I do not see one, not one with close to that gift of poetic imagery which actually enhanced the power of his subjects.

I hope that you enjoyed that, and if you did, perhaps I will try to look at Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” which has no equal as a long-form musical poem. Oh, I should add that the title of “Ballad of a Thin Man” probably was a little play on words on the movie “Song of the Thin Man,” which was one of the films in the William Powell and Myrna Loy “Thin Man” saga. I actually only realized that, when a year or so ago, I saw a listing on TCM for a series of “Thin Man” movies. And actually, as to that line of movies, the only character known as ‘the thin man” was in the first movie, the one based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel. There is no thin man in the other movies, for obvious reasons, if you see the first one.