Variations on a Theme by Mussolini

Movement One   (Mosso)

Evening.  Ringing of church bells, distant anguished voices; all muted. Three women are gathered around a fire in the countryside.  Unsettled, they look nervously around from time to time.

Woman One (stands up):  Victory will be ours tonight.  I know it. (Walks to stage right, looks beyond the audience)

Woman Two (sitting): It just seems like everything’s falling apart now.  Nothing works the way it’s supposed to anymore.

Kettle drums and horns begin slowly, quietly, then faster and louder.  Woman Two stands as the dissonant music grows louder, hands over her ears, and walks quickly to stage left.  The music stops abruptly.

Woman Three (sitting, looks at Woman One, then Woman Two):  What’s wrong with you two? (Stands) Everything’s fine.  You’re both acting so strangely.  Jesus – you’d think we were about to get hit by an asteroid or something.

Woman One (turns):  Don’t mention Jesus!  I told you: never mention Jesus.  He can’t fix things anyway.  Only The One can do that.  The One (she stops, puts her hands together reverently) – The One will fix everything.  I know He will, because He has said so again and again.  He said that He is the Power and the Glory, and when he says that, I just feel this tingly sense of transcendent joy.

Woman Two (turning, pointing):  Stop it!  Just stop it.  For god’s sake, don’t you see what’s happening?  The signs are all around us: the lies, the plots, the betrayals!

Woman One:  And leave god out of this, too.  His power can’t compare to that of The One.  Just forget god, ok?  We live in different times now.  God left town a long time ago.  That’s why The One has come among us – to set things right.

Woman Three:  What’s with you two?  We were having such a nice time, until you both got weird.  And obsessed.  You’re just obsessed with things that are beyond our control.  Everything’s going to be ok.  We just have to … I don’t know … just relax.  And have faith in the system.

Woman One:  Yes, everything will be ok, because The One …

Woman Two:  No!  No, no, no.  The One is a fake.  He’s like the Wizard of Oz, except we don’t know who the man behind the curtain is.  And by the time we do find out, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.  Time is running short.  Something has to be done.

Woman Three:  Oh, come on.  It’s not that bad.  Like I said, it’s not like an asteroid is about to hit planet Earth.

Woman Two:  The One is like an asteroid.  An out-of-control, mindless asteroid that will destroy all life as we know it.  I can’t believe you two don’t see that. 

Woman One:  What I see is that The One is creating a New World Order, because the old order is senile and irrelevant.  It’s outlived its usefulness – if it ever had one.  Our Homeland will once again stand as a shining example of Power and Exceptionalism to all the peoples of the world.  Especially the wobbly ones that have pretended to be our friends for the last fifty years; the ones who have abused our good intentions, and robbed us blind in the process. 

Woman Two:  Your devotion is misplaced.  When everything we’ve known, everything we’ve believed in, lies in ashes, you’ll see how dangerous The One is, and how foolish both of you have been.  And there will be no one to feel sorry for you, because we’ll all be lost in the darkness.

Somber music rises as the three Women exit the stage in different directions.    


Movement Two  (Accelerando)

A great, golden hall.  Through open windows, confused, chaotic music emanates from nearby, slowly coalescing into a martial air.  Attendant One, in a uniform with much gold braid, enters stage right, looking back).

Attendant One:  He’s coming!  Oh, my – The One is almost here!  Come along, everyone.  Come along.

Small group of White Men and Women, with one Hispanic Man, enter stage right.  Murmuring, animated, they talk among themselves.

First White Man:  Isn’t this exciting?  We’re going to see Him. In person!

First White Woman:  I’m so glad we could get tickets.  They were almost sold out.

Second White Woman:  We had to get our tickets from a scalper down the street.  It cost us fifty bucks, but it’ll be worth it just to feel His radiance, and hear Him skewer the Doubters and the Traitors.

Hispanic Man:  This is really going to be something.  I’ve only ever seen him on TV.

Second White Man (speaking to Hispanic Man):  So, you – you are a Devotee? 

Hispanic Man:  Devotee?  Well, if you mean, am I a supporter of The One, then sure; I’m a devotee.  Not in the religious sense, of course.  But in the political sense, absolutely.      

The rest of the group stops and listens to the conversation.

Second White Man:  But this is religious.  The One has singlehandedly brought about the greatest revival of Joyous Belief and a true sense of Mission than have ever been seen in this country since – well, I don’t know since when.  He said so Himself just a couple of nights ago, when He granted an interview to Truthnet.  I felt the power of His eminence right through the TV screen.  It was amazing!

Hispanic Man:  Well, I don’t know about all that.  I just think he’s going to help the economy and businesses and those kinds of things.  He talked about that a lot before he was elected. 

First White Woman:  He wasn’t elected!  He elevated Himself to Oneness, against all the odds, because of His natural gifts for sensing the strengths and weaknesses of those who opposed His Vision for the Great Overturning of America.  (Turns to First White Man.)  I read all about it in “Stealing the Future”.  I have an autographed copy!  I waited in line for two hours when He came to Philadelphia.  He actually touched my hand for a second or two when He handed the book back to me.  That is a moment I will treasure for the rest of my days.    

Hispanic Man:  I don’t understand what you’re saying.  You talk like he’s some sort of god.  He’s just a man with a vision.  I pretty much like the vision, but he’s a man, not a supernatural being.

Attendant One (eyes narrowed):  The One is supernatural.  He has come down from His High Place, to save us from ourselves.  It was laid out very clearly in His Writings.  Surely you have read them.  Surely you accept the tenants of His philosophy as the only True Path to our Salvation.  Surely you do.  Right?  Right?

Hispanic Man:  Now, wait a minute.  I think some of his ideas are good, but I don’t see this as some sort of religious experience.  I’m here because –

First White Man:  Why are you here?  And who are you, anyway?  Are you some sort of anarchist spy?  Come on.  What is it you’re trying to do, huh?  Tell us.

Hispanic Man:  What?  No.  I’m just a regular citizen like you.  I’m here to see The One because I think he could be good for the country.  That’s all. 

Attendant One:  No.  I don’t think you are a regular citizen (makes air quotes at words “regular citizen”).  In fact, I don’t think you are displaying proper respect for The One, and his Vision for America.  I don’t think so at all.  It might be best if you leave now.  We have no room for the likes of you here. 

Second White Woman:  He’s right.  You don’t sound like one of us.  You better get along now, before we call the cops.  They know how to take care of the likes of you. 

Second White Man:  Yeah.  I bet you’re not even a citizen.  The cops’ll straighten that out, though.  Straighten you out too, if you’re not careful. 

Hispanic Man:  What’s wrong with you people?  This isn’t the way for us to treat each other.  We need to respect each other.  I think that’s what The One wants.  He wants respect, and I think that means we should respect each other as well. 

First White Man:  Hah.  Like you have any idea what The One thinks.  Or wants.  Nobody knows what He thinks.  That’s part of his Power.  Nobody knows, but everybody gets it.  You don’t though, ‘cause you’re probably one of those libtards we hear about on Truthnet.  A libtard in disguise.  That’s what you are!

First White Woman (pulls out cell phone):  That does it.  This man is dangerous.  I can tell by the way he squints when he talks about The One.  I’m calling the cops right now.

Hispanic Man (backs away from the crowd):  Ok, ok.  No need for that kind of thing.  (Turns and quickly walks away, stage right)

Martial music comes up from open windows.

Attendant One:  Oh, hear that, friends.  The One is at hand.  Come along, or we’ll miss His entrance.  That’s one of my favorite parts of the show.

Exeunt stage left.


Intermezzo  (Allargando)

Bare dark stage. Women One, Two, and Three are barefoot, dressed in black, long sleeve shirts and black pants.  Separate spot lights on each as they enter individually.

Woman Two (enters stage left, walks to left of center stage, faces audience):  I am the Specter of Democracy Past.

Woman One (enters stage right, walks to right of center stage, faces audience):  I am the Specter of Democracy Betrayed.

Woman Three (enters center stage rear, walks forward, stops a few feet behind the other two Women, facing the audience):  I am the Specter of Reason Lost.

       Women Two and One face each other.

Woman Two (angry):  We were doing the right thing.

Woman One (triumphant):  The past had to be destroyed.

Woman Three (anguished):  I didn’t know what to do. 

Woman Two (crosses stage to center, gestures at Woman One):  You did this.  You and your wild ideas and your messiah complex, and your disdain for all the things you said you loved.  Why?  So you could control everything and force your myopia and your prejudice down our throats.  You needed to make us miserable so you could feel better about yourself. 

Woman One (crosses her arms):  Oh, please.  You were the one destroying the country.  I was just picking up the pieces and putting them back together in a different way.   Same pieces.  Different result.  Anyway, like they used to say, elections have consequences.  And, may I remind you, I won.

Woman Three (puts her hands to her face and begins crying loudly).

Woman One:  What are you crying for?  Everything’s going to be great now. 

Woman Three:  I didn’t know what to do!

Woman Two (to Woman Three):  Come on … don’t you see?  You helped her win.  All your indecisive flailing around helped her win!  I couldn’t do it all by myself.  Jesus.  I can’t believe how weak-willed you were.  All of your Pollyanna, they’re-all-the-same, it-can’t-happen-here attitude helped make this possible. 

Woman One:  (to Woman Three) Yes, you did.  And I must say, I am very appreciative.  (To Woman Two)  Now, as for you, I’ve told you before, that references to Jesus or god are forbidden now.  People may speak only of The One.  And only in very respectful and adoring terms.  It won’t go well for you if you keep ignoring that directive.  Not well at all.

Stage slowly goes dark.   


Movement Three  (Alla Marcia)

Outside the great, golden hall.  A brilliant, sunny day.  Attendant One enters from stage right followed by the group from Movement Two plus a few others.  Among them is Woman Two.  Banners (black letters on golden yellow) hang on the wall behind, saying things like “Our Foes Are Many but The One is Vigilant”, “WWOD?”, and “Only The One Knows The Truth.  

Attendant One:  Now, please be seated everyone.  The show is going to begin soon.

People sit and talk quietly but excitedly.  Many are wearing golden yellow baseball caps with WWOD? on the front.  Woman Two sits at the back.

But first we will be granted a few words by some of the luminaries assisting The One with His ongoing program of winning Victory after Glorious Victory, vanquishing our many enemies, and restoring us to our rightful, Number One place in the universe.   

Some people stand and chant USA, USA; pumping fists in the air.  Woman Two stands, looks around, but says nothing. 

Alright, alright.  That’s a lovely spontaneous outburst of patriotic fervor (looks up and over his shoulder to the rear) – Did the cameras get that? Ok, good – but sit down now.  We have a schedule to follow here. 

Three men (Sen. Benjamin Stillburn, Enforcer of Congressional Loyalty; Tom Mallus, Truthnet’s Executive Explainer; and The Most Rev. Orville Cruxler, Pontificator Extraordinaire) walk in from stage left, step onto a dais, and sit in chairs.

Our first speaker is the illustrious Sen. Benjamin Stillburn from the Southeast Region.  Sen. Stillburn was one of the first to be proclaimed a Hero of the Republic by The One, for his courageous work in stopping the Drifters and the Writers who supported them from overwhelming our very fair and honest elections with forged votes and fabricated news stories.  Senator?

 People sit and applaud.

Stillburn:  Thank you.  Thank you.  I am truly honored to be the lead MC for The One’s newest Show, which I can guarantee you will be the biggest, most spectacular Extravaganza of Delusion ever seen, even exceeding the grandiosity of His last Show, which drew a much larger audience than humanly possible.  And yet, it was possible, due to the stupendous power of The One to bring people together while simultaneously weeding out the Undesirables – of whom, as everyone knows, there are still many who plot the downfall of our Dear Beloved Leader. 

I am proud to be playing a small part in that weeding out, by ridding the voter rolls in the Southeast Region of as many people as possible, thereby saving untold amounts of money spent on lazy, ungrateful government employees who thought they had to read every damn name on the lists.  Our beautiful, pristine list now only includes those Loyal, Patriotic Americans who know they don’t have to vote because The One will always do what’s best for Himself, thus benefiting all of us.            

The crowd stands and applauds.  Woman Two moves along the far side of the crowd, somewhat closer to the front.

I now turn over the stage to everyone’s favorite Truthnet Talker, Tom Mallus.

          More applause. 

Mallus:  Hey, how’s everyone doing today, huh?  Beautiful day!  Glad to be here!  Now you know if you listen to my program on Truthnet – which you do, of course, because all Loyal Americans listen to my program – if you listen to me, you know that no one in all the land is a truer, more stalwart propagator of Real News about The One than me.  And you also know that every word I speak has been vetted and enhanced by the Department of Speech and Truth right here in Washington, D.C.  So when I say that The One is the greatest thing to happen to this country since Abraham Lincoln, you know it’s the solemn, unvarnished truth with a capital “T”!

More applause.  In the distance, “Stars and Stripes Forever” starts softly playing.

Hear that folks?  It’s The One’s theme music!  That means He’s getting closer to kick-off, so I’m going to hand the mike over to Rev. Orville Cruxler, Pontificator Extraordinaire and Private Spiritual Rationalizer for The One.    

Mild applause.  Woman Two takes a seat closer to the front.

Cruxler:  Good afternoon, friends, and may The One bless you.  (Murmurs of “Amen” from the crowd.)  When I first met The One, long before He ascended to Oneness, I could tell just by looking at Him that He was filled with the unbridled Spiritual Power that previously was the sole domain of the late deity we knew as “God”.  It just simply radiated out of Him in a way that was (he pauses, dabbs at his eyes with a handkerchief) … it was so overpowering, I just wanted to kneel down right then and there at His golden feet and utter a pitiful prayer of thanks. 

“Amens” from people in the seats.  Two Security Men (short hair, black suits, reflective sunglasses, earpieces) enter from stage right and stand behind the seats.   Woman Two looks around furtively, sees the men, and slumps down in her chair

Since then we have all seen the Wonders that The Great and Powerful One has bestowed upon us.  He leaves Blessings in his wake, everywhere He goes.  He is a Mighty and Vengeful Wraith who smites the enemies of our Greatness with the callous indifference they so righteously deserve.  (Red in the face now, he mops his forehead, and gestures with his right fist.)  He rid our Beautiful Homeland of the vermin who sought to defile it with their strange ways and weak minds.  He heaps destitution, sorrow and penury upon the heads of those among us who seek to undermine our Great and Noble Destiny with their antiquated thoughts of equality and justice.  Only The One is equal!  Only The One knows what is just and fair!  Only He can divine what we think and want!  May He rule over us forever and ever!  Amen!  

People jump to their feet, shouting Amens and USA, USA.  Woman Two moves to the front of the crowd, then walks quickly past the dais and disappears behind it.  The Security Men push their way through the crowd, stop at the dais, looking all around.  They never speak. 

Movement Four  (Prestissimo)

In a hall resembling a high school gymnasium.  Bleachers at rear, with many people in golden yellow “WWOD?” baseball caps, some holding signs with political slogans.  A large white podium with elaborate gold, Roman-style filigree is at center facing the audience, behind which stands The One, a tall heavy-set man with golden hair, black suit, and long, wide red tie.  Three rows of seats are in front of and facing the podium.  The seats are full.  Woman Two is among them.

The One:  And you know, I think … well, everybody knows … that We’ve done an amazing, amazing job of restoring America.  Nobody’s done a better job than We have.  We’ve broken so many records, many, many more than anyone else thought we could do … they all said We couldn’t do it, but We did, didn’t We, folks?  Everybody knows this, and if you have any doubts you can just tune in every night and listen to those good people at Truthnet, who, as you all know … since We eliminated all those conniving Scribes who were colluding with our Enemies … and by the way, We did a fantastic job of getting rid of those Fifth Columnists … Truthnet is the sole surviving purveyor of the Real Truth.  So go out there tonight, folks, when you stop at a bar, or even if you go back to your homes … and We’ve built some great neighborhoods around this country, haven’t We, huh?  Nobody’s seen things like this ever, not even the sainted Founding Fathers could do things like We’ve done … just go home, turn on your TV, and soak up the Great News that our friends at Truthnet put out there twenty-four hours a day.  You’ll feel better about America if you do that.  Well, you know, you better feel better.  Right? 

The One makes a narrow smile that might be a smirk.  Laughter from the crowd.  Chants of USA, USA.

Ok, ok, thank you.  That’s enough for now.  Look, as you all know, We are engaged in a new effort to protect our Beautiful Homeland by bringing our valiant Troops home from all around the world, so they can be with their families – family is so important, folks – and they’ll still have their guns, because We love guns.  Everybody knows that.  We love guns and We want to see more of them everywhere because … and I personally do not own a gun, but that’s ok.  Know why?  Because I own the Army.  And the Navy.  And, you know, all the rest, because I won.  I won!  Despite what some people thought We could do.  And We showed them, didn’t we?  So We’re bringing the Troops home, and putting them in some beautiful new barracks and forts, and they’re going to be so happy there, because We’re going to give them a raise too.  More money!  And we won’t have to put up with all those countries that never really respected us and refused to pay their fair share.  So …

More applause and cheers

That’s right.  More money for the Troops.  And We’ll just add a little more to your taxes for that, but you’re gonna love it, because America will be Great again, and the rest of the world can just go fend for themselves.  We don’t need them.  They were sucking the life blood out of us, but We’re done with that now.  They won’t have the United States of America to kick around anymore, because We …

Woman Two stands.

Woman Two:  You have betrayed us to our worst enemies!  You have destroyed everything this country stood for in the world! 

People stand, trying to shout her down.

The One:  No, no – let her talk, folks.  This is the kind of people We’ve repressed and marginalized, so she’s harmless now, because of the Great Work We’ve done for the Country.  So great!  Let her talk.  She’s harmless now.

        People sit, murmuring angrily.

Woman Two:  We’re not respected now.  We aren’t Number One in the world.  You’ve sucked up to dictators, pushed us into second class status, and you won’t be happy until we’re a third world country, doing the bidding of people who’ve always hated us and our values, just so you could look grand and important. But you’re not grand.  You’re a sniveling coward who doesn’t deserve to live!

Woman Two pulls out a 9mm Glock and points it at The One.  People cower, fall over chairs to get away.  She fires one or two rounds, which hit The One’s tie and ricochet off.  As she starts to fire again, a Security Man runs in from each side of the stage and wrestles her to the floor.


Coda  (Grave)

A gallows in a dimly lit, austere, stone-walled courtyard.  Hints of sunrise are seen beyond the wall.  Five Security Men stand in a wide perimeter around the gallows.  It’s obvious now that they’re Secret Service agents, watching and waiting. Two Executioners dressed in red with face masks are on the gallows platform, adjusting the rope, testing the trap door.  Rev. Cruxler, dressed in purple and white ceremonial robes, carrying an elaborate cross, enters stage left followed by two Attendants in similar clothes.  Woman Two, her hands tied behind her back, is brought in from stage right by two Prison Guards.  They stop in front of the gallows and are approached by Cruxler and his Attendants.

Cruxler (using the cross for emphasis as he talks):  Ah, here she is.  The great revolutionary.  It didn’t turn out so well for you, did it?  You couldn’t surmount the Awful Power of The One, could you?  Well, Miss Revolutionary, you’ve been tried and convicted of the highest crime in the land:  Attempting to do violent harm to The One.  There is, of course, only one punishment for that crime.  You shall be hanged by the neck until dead.  Then we won’t have to deal with the likes of you anymore.  Pfft.  Revolution indeed.  A bunch of childlike rabble pretending to be brave little soldiers. 

Through Cruxler’s speech, Woman Two remains stoic, almost haughty. 

Well, do you have any final words before the punishment is administered?  If you confess now to your evil deeds; if you tell us the names of your fellow conspirators; if you throw yourself on the Great and Infinite Mercy of The One, you might save your wretched little soul.  Not your life, of course.  We are about to see to that.  But your soul, young lady, your soul.

He waits a moment, looking at Woman Two quizzically, slowly slapping the palm of his left hand with the cross that he holds in his right.

Well?  Nothing else to say, then?

Woman Two:  Yeah, I have something to say.  Fuck you!  Fuck you and fuck The One!  You, and him and all the power-hungry, craven politicians who put him in power are going to die painful, miserable deaths.  You don’t think you will, but your time will come, and it’s going to be sooner than you think. (She spits on Cruxler) 

Cruxler (wipes his face):  My, my.  Such vitriol.  Well, my dear, it’s your time that has come, not mine.  Take her away.

The Guards take Woman Two atop the gallows.  Hands still bound behind her, the Executioners put the rope around her neck and then a tie sack over her head. 

Woman Two (shouting):  You’re nothing but a pitiful Quisling, Cruxler!  You and the so-called One are going to end up hanging from meat hooks on the National Mall. 

Stage goes dark.

You can kill me, but words live on!  You’ll never be able to shut me up.  You’ll choke on your own evil and then …

Sound of a trap door opening, and Woman Two’s body dropping down and jerking.     



  •  Mosso:  Agitated    
  • Accelerando:  Accelerating
  • Allargando:  Slow and broadening
  • Alla Marcia:  At a marching pace
  • Prestissimo:  Very, very fast
  • Grave:  Slow and solemn


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How to Stop the President and Save the Republic


(1)  Violence:  Dear FBI, Secret Service, and FaceBook Minders:  I know that violence against the president is completely illegal and dangerous, and it is not something I or anyone else I know or support have in the past, are now, or will in the future state, desire, or agitate for as a goal.  Sure, it has the benefit of finality.  But were something like that to unfortunately happen, we would have to endure Mike Pence.  Consolation Prize:  As wildly conservative as he is, Pence looks (slightly) better now, just by comparison with Mr. Trump.  Of course, anyone would come off looking better when compared with the Mango Mussolini.  Except perhaps Mussolini.

(2)  Accident:  While extremely unlikely, due to his Secret Service detail, and his limos and his helicopters, a golfing accident could happen.  While motoring across one of his money-losing golf courses, a tree might collapse right on top of the presidential golf cart.  Again, finality, and not much the Secret Service could do about it.  They’re prepared for active shooter scenarios.  Active falling tree?  Not so much.  Another possibility is that, while swinging a nine iron, one of his golf buddies (Real buddies or Fake Buddies?  One wants to know) loses control of his club and it flies head first into the head of the Leader of the Free World (though I daresay Trump does not see himself in that role).  Downside:  He might survive, suffer brain damage, and emerge from the hospital even more deranged and delusional than he is now.  So, in the accident scenario, a falling tree is definitely much better than a nine iron.

(3)  Heart Attack:  Despite what the now-former White House physician and suggested VA Secretary – Dr. Ronny! – said in his absurdly positive review of the president’s health, Mr. Trump is a fast food cholesterol bomb waiting to explode.  Golfing is pretty much his only exercise, though his thumbs do get quite a workout, what with all that tweeting.  Look at it this way:  cheeseburgers + physique + golf cart exercise = heart attack.  It would be the easy way out (for the country), but once again, we would have to put up with Pence afterwards.  And if not Pence, then the Speaker of the House (P. Ryan), and then the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (O. Hatch).  Any of them would be an appalling follow-up act to The Great Pretender.

(4)  Resignation:  Talk about too much to hope for.  Next?

(5)  Impeachment:  This is not a possibility so long as the Republicans control Congress, mainly because the vast majority of Republicans in the House and Senate are either craven power seekers or spineless weasels.  It’s hard to say which group is ascendant at any given time, though it seems the weasels are predominating right now.  In any case, the grounds for impeachment – high crimes and misdemeanors – do seem to exist.  For example: failing to protect our election system from interference by a hostile foreign power (despite overwhelming evidence both that the interference took and is taking place, and that the foreign power in question is indeed hostile to us); obstruction of an on-going federal investigation; enriching his and his families’ businesses as a result of his position of power.  There may be other reasons that have yet to come to light, but these seem sufficient.  If only someone would start the process.

(6)  Vote:  This is clearly the most preferable method of evicting Mr. Trump from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  Sadly, we are a long way from Tuesday, 3 November 2020.  To be precise, it is 831 days from the day I write this.  However, it is only 104 days until Tuesday, 6 November 2018, which is our first opportunity to turn back the red tide unleashed and encouraged by Trump and his acolytes, and abetted by his apologists.  We cannot remove Trump from the presidency this coming November, but we can thwart his agenda, and blunt his ignorant and dangerous impulses.  Untold mischief can be done and chaos unleashed in the next three months by the enfant terrible with the fragile ego who lives (part of the week) in the White House, but the preceding five options are either illegal, unlikely, uncertain, or some combination thereof.

I continue to believe a greater percentage of Americans cherish democracy and distrust Trump, than do those who love and support any little thing Trump says or does.  I also believe that if the people of this country fight back against voter suppression and gerrymandering, if we register to vote, if we show up on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and vote, we can stop Trump and his ilk, and save the republic.


And yo, FBI:  I’m still not advocating or hoping for assassination, so please don’t let my little piece of satirical political writing distract you from investigating Russian spies, collusion between politicians and foreign agents, or interference with our electoral system by a hostile foreign power or powers (looking at you, Russia and China).  Thanks!


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God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Let Nothing You Dismay)


Christmas is once again almost upon us.  And “upon us” is how it feels this year.  Well, in reality, it feels that way almost every year for me.  That may, in part, be due to my (adoptive) parents having died around Christmas.  Him, three days after, in 1983; her, five days before, in 1993.  I wasn’t that close to them, but their deaths, amid a time of year that our society heavily identifies as being all about comfort, joy, and Norman Rockwell-style family dinners, probably do cast something of a shadow over the whole “season” for me. 

I want to love Christmas.  I really do.  All the lights and trees and fake snow.  The multiplicities of Santa Clauses (but imagine the confusion small children feel).  The spirit of bonhomie that, sought or not, descends upon us, sometime around the last Thursday in November (if not before). 

I know there’s a lot of authenticity in all of this.  Yet, there is also much about it that feels rather forced.  You know what I mean:  the gatherings, the dinners, the office parties; to say nothing of the trips to parent’s or in-law’s homes that are performed out of a sense of obligation or expectation … or just plain guilt.  Sometimes, the joy does not flow in a natural way, of its own accord.  For that matter, sometimes the joy simply refuses to flow at all, regardless of how much effort is expended in trying to make it happen.

It does not help that Christmas has become a cudgel wielded by right-wing conservative politicians and mega-church preachers (the latter actually being politicians by another name) in the fake “War on Christmas” that they themselves have ginned up as a way of attacking liberals and other progressive types.  It was fine when all they wanted to do was carry on about Jesus being The Reason for the Season.  I never saw it that way – it’s about Santa Claus, heartwarming stories, crackling fires in beautiful fireplaces – but to each their own. 

However, if you do want to go with The Reason for the Season theory, then you should at least be consistent enough to accurately represent, if not in fact emulate, the deity whom you purport to worship, and whose supposed birthday falls on 25 December.  By this, I mean, among other things, the following:

  1. Jesus, if we are to believe the mythology associated with him, was a working class Jewish man – a carpenter – from a family of limited means.
  2. Having been born in what we fancifully used to call the Near East, he would have been a comparatively darker-skinned person of Semitic stock; not that tall, blond-haired, Caucasian Jesus of my childhood, attired in a long flowing white robe that – miraculously! – remained pristine, despite the conditions of life at that time.
  3. Most notably, in regard to this Christmas story I’m writing, was his habit of associating with prostitutes and thieves and lepers, all of whom he treated with compassion and care.
  4. I’m sure I don’t need to remind these devout Christmas Warriors of the words in Matthew 25, but I will anyway: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
  5. Despite those lovely words, we have constantly before us the spectacle of alleged Conservatives, allegedly defending what they sanctimoniously call The Judeo-Christian Values of America by cutting Federal government aid to poor and hungry people, turning away refugees who are attempting to escape repression or poverty in other parts of the world (remember America as the Land of Opportunity?), creating legislation that will reduce or eliminate healthcare for millions of Americans, and encouraging the construction of more private prisons which will be filled with victims of the Conservative’s renewed draconian sentencing for low level crimes. They appear to have also forgotten these words attributed to Jesus: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

So much for comfort and joy.  So much for rosy-cheeked, Norman Rockwell family dinners in well-appointed, middle-class homes, all the happy generations sitting around a table overflowing with beautiful, fresh, nutritious, home-cooked food.  The self-appointed saviors of the republic, completely ignoring the Savior whom they pretend to honor at this time of the year (and, when convenient, at other times of the year), are instead bringing poverty, hunger and ignorance to the people whose best interests they were elected to serve. 

Ho, ho, ho.

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The Daily News

It’s the news.  It’s always the news. 

Every day.  Every night.  Every week. 

All. Year. Long. 

There’s a very real danger that if I pay attention to everything – every new scandal or revelation or exposé involving the incompetent cabal of malevolent narcissists running the show in Washington, D.C. – if I were to do all that with my complete and undivided attention, there is a very real and visceral danger that my head might explode. 

This would be unpleasant not just for me (because I would no longer have a head) but for everyone in the immediate vicinity.  It would be messy and disgusting, and could very possibly set off a chain reaction.  Others nearby who have been in a prolonged state of news-avoidance could be traumatized.  Thrown without warning into extreme panic, their heads might also explode, creating an Augean Stable of blood and gore. 

Like nuclear fission run amok, the contagion would metastasize, becoming a veritable Chernobyl, but without the Russians.  Or Fukushima, without the tsunami.

But maybe there would be Russians.  Maybe there already are.  Maybe they’re behind the whole thing.

The Byzantine cyber-subversions, the emails, all those foxes guarding all those hen houses.  They’re showering paranoia and discord over us like a vast radioactive fog. 

People who watch Alex Jones or Fox News, or who listen to Rush Limbaugh, have been spared though. 

How, you might ask?  It’s very simple. 

They have all been issued Russian-made helmets, crafted from the finest tin foil, protecting them from the harmful effects of facts and science, and reality in general.  They are compelled to wear these protective devices at all times, lest they fall under the influence of Secular Humanism or – worse yet – Socialism!  Sometimes, if you look very closely, you can see little bits of the tinfoil sticking out from under the wigs they wear to hide their complicity.

I know all this because I read it on a completely reliable Facebook page.  Or maybe it was a Google ad.  Whatever.  It doesn’t matter, because I know this to be absolutely true, despite what you or anyone else may be thinking or saying right now, in front of me, while I’m trying to explain all this in a very rational manner.

That’s fine, as long as you understand:  It’s weird out there, and we all need to be very, very afraid.

I think I’m going to stop now, before my head explodes. 


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Baseball with Harold

I’m sitting at a bar, having dinner, and a baseball game is on the TV above the bar.  San Francisco versus the Mets, I think.  This recalls for me that baseball was one of the ways (perhaps the only way) in which my father and I bonded – insofar as Harold and I bonded at all.

I remember going to a baseball game with him.  Dallas didn’t have a major league team in 1959, and the game we attended was a small affair.  Wooden bleacher seats; I remember that, and the lights on the field.  I don’t know if I ate a hot dog, or if Harold drank a beer.  Both of those things are possible, but I don’t know.  They’re not part of what I remember.  I just recall being there with Harold, and the rough wood of the seats, and the glaring brightness of the lights.  Oh, the teams, of course, but they were out beyond the chain link fence, so a bit remote.  And in any case, they were just the supporting cast for the central attraction:  doing something with my father; something that was fun, not tedious, or aggravating; something that would give us an opportunity to talk with each other about anything other than grades, and discipline, and keeping my mother happy.

There were other people in the bleachers, but not a crowd.  Some of them were heckling the batter, and criticizing the umpire; talking, as a way of shaping an outcome.

Part of my memory of Harold is that he never really transmitted anything to me.  We went to a baseball game.  Maybe two or three; I don’t know.  We played catch in the back yard a few times.  My kid-sized leather glove went the way of all things years ago, but I still have my bat.  It’s a Louisville Slugger.  Child size, of course.  I used to have a baseball that I think I got at a game.  (I caught it?  Harold caught it?  I don’t know.)

Baseball could have created a thread of communication between me and Harold, but it didn’t work out that way.  My fault, I guess.  Even at 12 years old, I wasn’t really into sports.  In seventh grade I was on the football team for my elementary school.  Football has a venerated place in Texas society, so perhaps that was part of my motivation.  Or maybe I wanted to belong to something; be part of a team, which was not the case in the rest of my life.  Whatever my reasons may have been, in one game I fell and my chest was stepped on by a much larger boy from the other team.  After that, I decided that football just wasn’t for me.

Looking back on it, I think I was something of a disappointment to Harold and Dorothy; as though I was never the kind of boy they thought they’d gotten when they adopted me.  Not boy enough, not tough enough or sporting enough, or … something.

Perhaps joining the seventh grade football team, or volunteering for the Army nine years later, were attempts to prove something to Dorothy and Harold.  Or did I do those things to prove something to myself?

Around the same time I was playing football, when I was twelve or thirteen years old, I was being set upon (bullied is what it would be called now) by a neighborhood kid.  He hit me at one point, and bloodied my nose.  I went home, and told Harold about what had happened.  He exhorted me to take this kid on.  He told me that I needed to stand up for myself and go fight this boy, and then proceeded to give me advice about fighting: pointers on pugilism.

It was bad enough that I felt pressured by Harold to do something I had no desire to do.  There was also the fact that my father had never seemed like a fighter to me, so it was rather jarring for him to want me to go fight this (now completely forgotten) neighborhood boy.  But I don’t know; maybe during his teen years in Tulsa and Denver he had to fight to defend himself.  If so, he never shared any stories about those experiences with me.

The man was an absolute cipher to me.  I know he delivered newspapers in Tulsa, and he was a bike messenger for the Continental Oil Company in Denver, but I know that mostly because of research I’ve done in the years since he died in 1983, at the age of 79.  I know he played baseball in Denver for a team sponsored by a Texaco gas station where he worked.  I also know he was a musician in a large dance orchestra.  He played the banjo.

I know all these facts about him, but none of the passion or joy that must’ve animated those pieces of his life was ever shared with me.  Perhaps when Dorothy and Harold adopted me in 1948, not knowing what to do with this child who had been dropped into his life four and a half decades on, he relied on memories of his relationship with his own father.  I guess.  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  And that not-knowing, along with complete ignorance when I was growing up about my birth father, left a certain void in my life.  The place for Mother was filled to overflowing by Dorothy, but the slot for Father was barren.

I tried to counteract that, I tried to fill that void, by being a different kind of father to my three daughters.  I had no template for that, no exemplar to which I could refer.  Harold had not given me what I felt I needed – his stories; his living, emotional self – so I tried to share my own true self with my daughters.

At the same time, I was sorting out just what that meant to me, but I didn’t want my daughters to have to guess who I am.  I didn’t want them to have to look for clues, left like a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest.  How can you construct an understanding of someone from breadcrumbs, or from photographs with nothing written on the back, or old newspaper clippings that told you something about your father that you never knew until a decade after he died?

I wanted to know Harold as a person, not as a cardboard-cutout of “Dad”, but there was no warmth between us, no bond of any sort, in fact, except for the fact of living in the same house together.  It feels like he just hovered around the edges of my life when I was growing up; a gray, opaque presence who, like footprints on a beach, has been washed away with time.

That’s how I have felt about him for many years:  a ghost who left no trace of himself.  But then, a few nights ago, I realized that he had transmitted something to me, if only by osmosis.

Harold didn’t love nature, or art, nor did he like to read books.  He wasn’t interested in architecture, and he never talked about politics.  What he did love was music.

This realization came to me while in the middle of a prosaic task, as realizations so often do.  I was listening to music while making dinner.  One of the CDs was recordings by people like Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman and Harry James; a kind of jazz that we now classify as “Big Band” music.  It’s music that I heard over and over again while I was growing up (along with other musicians, like Al Hirt and Pete Fountain).  Until I was old enough to have my own record player, and develop my own musical tastes, it was the soundtrack of my life, and it’s music I still like.

So, when that CD started playing, it put me in mind of Harold, and made me smile a bit.  That’s not the same as knowing him, or hearing stories about his life as a musician.  It’s not the same as connecting with him.  Hearing Benny Goodman play the clarinet on “Don’t Be That Way” reminds me of Harold, but it doesn’t make me nostalgic about him.  How can you be nostalgic for something or someone you never really knew?  It’s like trying to recall a dream, hours after you wake.  You were doing something – what, exactly? – and there were other people there – who were they? – and it seemed really significant when you were in the dream.  But now that you’re awake, you can’t quite put your finger on what that was all about, or who those people were, and eventually, the dream fades completely away.


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How to Laugh in Chinese


There are a number of different ways of laughing in English:  chuckle, snicker, guffaw, chortle, grin, and plain old laugh, among others.  It’s much the same in other languages.

In Chinese, for example, you can laugh Hā Hā (哈哈); an everyday laugh.   Or, you can say Hē Hē (呵呵), a soft laugh that can indicate sarcasm or mockery.  Then, there’s Xī Xī (嘻嘻), the equivalent of “hee hee.”

I wonder in what way the Chinese – Xi Jingping in particular – are laughing right now?  Could it be Hēng Hēng (哼哼), a kind of short, sardonic sneer, or perhaps Mu Hā Hā (木哈哈), which is considered informal, evil laughter?

I don’t know, of course, but what I do know is that, while we are all distracted by the non-issue of “Covfefe” and the very real issue of the on-going Russia scandal, Mr. Trump, through his myopic arrogance, to say nothing of his colossal ignorance, is leading our country to ruin.  While supposedly making America great again – we didn’t actually need your help, Donny – he has withdrawn the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, after having earlier cancelled participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade arrangement that would have put America in a strong position of leadership in East and Southeast Asia (there’s plenty of blame for demonization of the latter to lay at the feet of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, by the way).

Whichever sort of laughter it is coming out of Beijing today, it bodes ill for us.  The interference of Russia in our 2016 election, and their meddling in European politics, and in the Middle East, are challenges, to be sure.  They are dangerous, and they are behaviors that have to be addressed and dealt with.

China is another matter.  The threat from them is truly existential.  They do not want to cooperate on the world stage, except insofar as it might further their actual goal.  And that actual goal is to displace the United States as the leading world power, the power that, for all of our faults and missteps, has done great work in the years since World War Two, to protect and further democracy around the world.  The Chinese could care less about protecting democracy; indeed, they will shred it wherever they find it, if they can get away with it (and they have worked very hard to do so in Tibet and Hong Kong).

You could say that Putin’s Russia has the same goal.  That is true, but there is a very significant difference:  Russia is a neo-czarist, oligarchic kleptocracy that presides over an unstable economy largely dependent upon the price of oil and natural gas, and on the strength of their military.

China has a strong economy, a billion people to provide cheap labor, and a growing and modernizing military.  Most significantly, they are awash in money, a great deal of which they have accumulated by first, making and selling cheap crap to the rest of the world, and then by copying or outright stealing the ideas and processes and designs of others.

It is China that needs to be the main focus of our attention, not Russia.

Mr. Trump, ignorant of history, to say nothing of politics, has set about creating power vacuums in the world.  It is the nature of such vacuums to not stay empty for long, and it is Chinese laughter that we will hear as they are filled.

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Fifty Words on Easter Morning

Dying eggs                                                                                                                                   Invisible rabbits                                                                                                                                                     The magical blood of lambs

Full moon                                                                                                                                 Flowering trees                                                                                                                                                     Sacrifice at sunrise

Rebirth                                                                                                                                                 New love                                                                                                                                                                 Twenty-eight days

Rabbit in the moon                                                                                                                             Fly in the ointment                                                                                                                                              The return of spring

Hope and faith                                                                                                                   Regeneration                                                                                                                                                        Astarte has risen

Look up now                                                                                                                                       And see the stars                                                                                                                                                  Such wonder everywhere.

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