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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

No, Baseball Isn't 'Doomed' Or Even Broken -- It's Still Beautiful

Now that the Major League Baseball season is well under way, with fans like me relieved and happy to have our absorbing summer pastime back, spectators returning to the ballpark, and interesting playoff races in all six divisions, it's time for the annual spate of "baseball is doomed" articles presaging the game's inevitable decline and fall.

"Baseball Is Broken" reads a prototypical headline in The Atlantic, of all places, not normally known for sports writing. "Once a generation," according to author Devin Brooks" the game of baseball suffers through a fun crisis, and the story of this MLB season so far is how alarmingly not fun baseball has become."

The big complaint is that pitchers—bigger, stronger, and throwing harder than ever—have gotten the upper hand over batters, leading to an MLB-wide decline in batting averages and a whole lot of strikeouts. Also a decline in situational hitting, i.e. hit-and-run plays, hitting behind base runners to move them along, bunting, and so on.

Many fans have been complaining, particularly in New York, where the Yankees have been whiffing at prodigious rates. I can't say I was personally disappointed to see eight of the last nine Yankees batters fan during a taut contest against the Red Sox last week. Boston pitchers threw some unhittable stuff. When it's 97 mph on the black edge of the plate at the knees…

Well, you try to hit it.

As a one-time pitcher during the Late Middle Ages—we played with rounded stones and cudgels—I found it thrilling. The Red Sox won zero games at Yankee Stadium during last year's Covid-shortened season.

Besides, the two teams will square off another 18 times during the regular season. Part of the beauty of the game for serious fans is that they do it almost every day. You know how your grandma used to watch her daily TV soap opera? For me, that's MLB baseball: an entertainment, an ongoing saga, and a refuge from…

Well, what have you got? For me it's mainly politics, a couple or three blessed hours without a word about Democrats, Republicans, or even the happy peregrinations of "The Second Gentleman."

It's definitely a TV show. Due to a combination of circumstances, I watched four consecutive Red Sox broadcasts last week with four different announcing crews: Houston's, Boston's, Fox Sports' and ESPN's.

Regardless of which team you support, it makes a big difference. The Astros need a serious energy transfusion in the broadcast booth. For all his star power, ESPN's Alex Rodriguez was droning on like a priest saying a 6 a.m. mass until he hit upon the topic of the 2021 Yankee team's deficiencies. That earned him a well-deserved headline in the New York Times.

Good pitching really plays on TV, especially with an expert commentator (and unabashed flake) like Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley calling them. "If he throws this guy another piece of high cheese," Eck will say, "he'll miss it by a foot." And most often, that's exactly what happens.

But back to The Atlantic and baseball's "fun crisis." What apparently set author Devin Brooks off was a seeming misunderstanding. His piece appears with the following correction: "This article previously misstated that Tyler Duffey beaned Yermin Mercedes. In fact, he threw behind Mercedes."

That is, instead of assault with a deadly weapon, the Minnesota Twins pitcher made a symbolic gesture to convey the message: "We didn't like you showing us up yesterday. You need to show more respect."

Duffey was suspended for three days, and his manager for one.

What precipitated the whole kerfluffle was slugger Mercedes ignoring a take sign from his manager, the venerable Tony La Russa, and hitting a 3-0 meatball from a position player, catcher Willians "La Tortuga" Astudillo, 420 feet for a home run in the ninth inning of a 15-4 game.

See, by bringing in a position player, Minnesota was conceding the game, and by hitting what amounted to a batting practice home run, Mercedes was rubbing it in. Baseball's unwritten rules can be subtle. Had the count been 3-1, it would presumably have been OK.

La Russa said his player had a lot to learn, several of his White Sox players said their manager himself was out of line, and then the Twins "retaliated." In short, as Brooks comments, "pretty standard big-league macho posturing."

Even if La Russa himself had made the ultimate rookie mistake of playing the "Do you know who I am?" card during a DWI bust last October and flashing his World Series ring. (He eventually pled guilty.)

The only serious baseball issue here is Mercedes ignoring a sign and White Sox players basically saying nobody needs to pay attention to grandpa. If so, then the 76 year-old Hall of Famer (and baseball's second-winningest manager ever) may have lost control of his team. And that wouldn't be funny at all.

Senate Democrats Must Kill The Filibuster Before It Kills Democracy

Have Americans still got the guts for democracy? In light of recent events in Washington, you'd have to say it's doubtful.

Last week the Senate voted 54-35 to establish an independent commission to investigate the seditious January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol—the most violent attack there since the War of 1812. The House had previously approved the measure 252-175.

If the Senate vote were a football score, you'd call a nineteen point win decisive. And yet, the measure failed to survive a Republican filibuster, a quaint Senate rule requiring a supermajority of sixty votes to become law.

Created during racial segregation and used for decades to block civil rights reforms, the filibuster is found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. It's neither a law nor a Supreme Court ruling. It's simply a Senate custom—and an openly un-democratic one—which could be eliminated tomorrow by a simple majority vote.

The Senate is a conservative institution by definition. It gives far more power and influence to small rural states than to large, metropolitan ones where most people live. Citizens of Wyoming, population 573,000, for example, have 70 times the influence in the U.S. Senate as citizens of California, population 39.5 million.

Only major constitutional surgery can change that, so it's never going to happen. No point even talking about it.

Add the filibuster, however, and it's a recipe for legislative paralysis: to wit, a government that refuses to defend itself against violent insurrection because it might hurt Citizen Trump's feelings.

Or might put Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a tight spot. Not to mention Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). These two heroes spoke out decisively in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 coup attempt, but now the wind has changed and they're busily hunting cover.

"If you can't get a Republican to support a nonpartisan analysis of why the Capitol was attacked for the first time since the War of 1812, then what are you holding out hope for?" asks Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).

What, indeed?

Former Obama White House aide David Plouffe put it even more bluntly on Twitter: "Democracy dying so the filibuster can live would seem a terrible way for this experiment to end."

Polls have shown that a clear majority of Americans support the establishment of a January 6 Commission by 56 to 30 percent. Even 28 percent of Republicans would be interested in finding out, for example, how many of those "tours" given by right-wing congressmen on January 5 consisted of pre-riot reconnaissance? Or who gave the "stand down" order preventing the National Guard from arriving on time, and why?

Just how organized was the conspiracy that resulted in "Proud Boys" running through the halls of Congress chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" while the vice-president's security team hustled him into hiding?

Did the Proud Boys keep it a secret from their pal Roger Stone? Did he neglect to tell his pal, Donald J. Trump?
Inquiring minds want to know.

Senate Republicans, not so much.

Look, under current circumstances, 54-35 equates to a thunderous majority. Filibuster, however, equates with doing nothing, and with political cowardice.

Indeed, the filibuster is arguably more responsible than anything else for the disdain with which most Americans view Congress's congenital inability to act. That's certainly how Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) sees it.

"If they block the January 6 commission, we will have to abolish the filibuster," Markey told the Washington Post. "If the Republicans block climate action, we will have to abolish the filibuster. If Republicans block voting rights, we'll have to abolish the filibuster. If Republicans block gun control legislation, we will have to abolish the filibuster. So I think that it's just continuing to move towards the inevitability of the unavoidable necessity of repealing the filibuster."

And yet preserving the filibuster is seemingly more important to certain "moderate" Democrats—specifically Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Sinema (D-AZ)—than all of those things. See, something else the filibuster does is to enhance the power and visibility of individual Senators--one reason President Joe Biden, a 30-year Senate veteran, is himself iffy about abolition.

The argument is that the 60-vote Senate requirement somehow fosters bipartisanship, although nobody ever says how. Mostly it now fosters Manchin's televised imitations of Maine's GOP Sen. Susan Collins—routinely regretting this and deploring that, before falling quietly in line. (In fairness, Manchin and Collins both voted for the January 6 commission.)

On the day after voting to drop the filibuster, Manchin would return to being just another of 50 Democratic senators. So there's that.

Others argue that should Republicans re-take the Senate come 2022, Democrats could come to regret killing the filibuster. Could be, although does anybody think the GOP won't ditch the rule whenever it's convenient?

In the foreseeable future, there's no chance of either party securing a sixty-vote majority. The choice is between majority rule and paralysis.

The GOP's Big, Shiny Voter Suppression Scheme Is Coming For You

Nobody wants to believe what they are seeing: the conversion of one of America's two major political parties into a cult of personality actively conspiring to overturn democratic rule in the United States. And doing so in broad daylight.

Irish poet William Butler Yeats put it best in The Second Coming, a poem written during the turmoil leading up to his country's civil war: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

I don't guess I need to stipulate which is which.

Given the magnitude of his 2020 defeat, there's little chance that Citizen Trump could come anywhere near an electoral majority come 2024. Always assuming that he's still alive, minimally functional, and not in prison, that is.

Purging the GOP of non-cultists like Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) would appear likely to weaken, not strengthen, its appeal to the independent voters who decide American elections. With Citizen Trump's approval ratings stuck in the low 30s, nominating him can only lead to certain defeat.

Always assuming that citizens do get to vote, and that their votes actually count, which is where the mischief starts.

Of course, the whole thing could simply be yet another grift: scamming supporters for millions in "political" donations to support the Trump lifestyle.

True Believers, however, have grasped that for the Trump restoration to be achieved, millions either need to be disenfranchised, or, failing that, their votes overridden.

Purging voter rolls isn't likely to work. It's almost impossible to write laws removing Democratic voters without getting rid of Trump supporters too. As Stacey Abrams has proved in Georgia, guiding her party to win first the presidential race and two U.S. Senate runoffs, the surest way to stimulate Democratic voter turnout is to try to suppress it.

So Republican state legislators both in Georgia and at least 35 other states have come up with a plan to pursue the goals of Trump's failed January 6 coup attempt by legalistic means: weakening the authority of local election officials to tabulate the vote, and replacing them with partisan legislators.

The same farcical Georgia law that made it illegal to give water to voters waiting in line to cast their ballots also gave its GOP legislature the power to remove and replace election officials in Democratically-controlled counties.

The legislature took authority to run Georgia elections away from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—the honorable Republican who recorded Trump's browbeating him to "find" enough votes to make him a winner—and gave themselves the power to simply reject outcomes they don't like.

Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times has documented cookie-cutter efforts in 36 states: "Last year, for example, Trump asked several GOP governors to refuse to certify their states' results — under the legal theory that if electoral votes for Biden weren't certified, they couldn't be counted.

"When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp refused, Trump called him 'worse than a Democrat' and threatened him with a primary challenge."

McManus quotes Edward B. Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University: "It's not too early to worry about January 6, 2025. They are trying to lay the groundwork [for 2024] to make sure local officials will jump if Trump tells them to jump…They didn't jump last time, but they might the next time."

Remember too that on January 6, with the odor of tear gas still redolent in the House chamber, 126 gutless GOP House members voted to reject the electoral votes of Arizona and Pennsylvania, which Biden won. Hence also the farcical, but no less dangerous "audit" of Maricopa County, Arizona's presidential vote by the previously unknown "Cyber Ninjas" firm.

They're the geniuses searching 2.1 million ballots for traces of bamboo, supposedly to prove they originated in China. No theory is too crazy for Trump cultists to embrace.

Never mind that Republican county officials responsible for managing the election have unanimously condemned the effort. "I think a small mushroom cloud will go up over Maricopa County if the Cyber Ninjas report that Donald Trump really was the winner of the election," Republican county recorder Stephen Richer has said.

And you know that's going to happen.

The Arizona gong show has zero authority to change anything. But to give you some idea, last week obscure Indiana congressman Greg Pence voted against establishing a January 6 commission on the grounds that "Hanging Judge Nancy Pelosi" was out to get Trump—the guy who egged on a mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence!" in the halls of Congress.

Greg and Mike are brothers.

Democrats are kidding themselves if they think that this kind of cowardly groveling before the Trump Cult will simply go away.

Get Vaccinated Now, Mask Up Sometimes -- And Keep Using Common Sense

Frankly, I've never understood why face masks were ever such a big deal. There's a deadly viral disease abroad in the land; it spreads through aerosolized particles emitted when people talk, sneeze or breathe heavily, particularly in crowded, indoor spaces. It seemed only a matter of common sense and common courtesy to wear a mask at the grocery store.

I don't like wearing socks either. But if they protected me, the people I love, and Maggie the Kroger pharmacist from intensive care or the graveyard, I'd wear two pairs at a time. What persuaded me was during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic when Maggie sewed masks for the whole pharmacy staff back when masks were still hard to find. I'd already learned to trust her judgement.

Possibly the dumbest non-Trump moment during the whole Covid-19 saga (ingested bleach lately?) was when a crowd of fools in Idaho made a spectacle of themselves burning face masks to express their vigilant opposition to… Well to what? The existence of viruses? The reality of the pandemic? The tyranny of public health departments?

Politicians prating about lost "liberty" over face mask requirements struck me as similarly childish. The government also requires me to wear pants in public. Is that an infringement of my First Amendment right as an American to exhibit my posterior?

Nowhere near as dumb, because essentially harmless, are the many Americans who vow to continue wearing face masks pretty much forever. There's a meme going around on Facebook asking people if they plan to ditch the fool things in the wake of the CDC's (admittedly clumsy) pronouncement that fully-vaccinated individuals no longer need them.

See, the data's in: the vaccines work.

So far, more than a million fraidy-cats affirm that they plan to go masked indefinitely: MAGA hats for Democrats. Ever in search of ratings-building controversy, CNN news personalities have taken to pretending that the CDC guidelines are deeply confusing and potentially dangerous.

No, they're not. And yes, even the most dedicated worry-warts will gradually shed their masks in coming weeks as wearing one makes you look like a hopeless dork and CNN moves on to the next damned thing.

Even my sainted wife—a worry-wart if ever one was—will eventually lose every mask she owns and neglect to replace them. We'll be finding them in couch cushions and under ottomans for months. She forgot her mask at our favorite (outdoor) pizza place the other night, and I said nothing. See, I'd accidentally left mine in the car.

Everybody at our table was long-vaccinated, so what was the point?

But I'll keep going masked into the Kroger store for as long as they ask. So will everybody else. It's no big deal. That's why all this TV chatter about a one-size-fits-all national policy is beside the point. We live in a strong blue enclave in the deep red state of Arkansas. Locally, common sense compliance with mask mandates has been strong.

Out in the boondocks, however, it's a different story. The New York Times' interactive coronavirus tracker tells me that rural Perry County, where we lived until fairly recently, is at "high risk" for infection. Our friend Maurice says that nobody but him wears a mask at the filling station/feed store that serves as a community hub. As a former college professor, people expect him to be eccentric.

However, there have also been no Covid deaths and no new cases countywide for several weeks running. So you can almost understand why only 30 percent of citizens there have been vaccinated. Most residents of the county are cows.

Almost, that is, but not quite.

Vaccine hesitancy doesn't shock me. Apparently misled by Walter Winchell—the Tucker Carlson of his day—my own sainted mother refused to let me be vaccinated against polio. She had a superstitious nature and mistrusted expertise of all kinds. I finally got the shot after joining the Peace Corps.

Back here in town, masking customs have been evolving steadily since the vaccine arrived. For months, protocol at outdoor restaurants has been to wear one until you sit down, and then remove them. Pretty much the same custom now prevails at indoor restaurants that have recently reopened. Call me reckless, but I have never worn a mask during our daily dog park outing, merely kept my distance, as most people there do.

Dogs, not so much.

Compared to most people, dealing with the pandemic has been fairly easy for my wife and me. I've worked at home for many years, and she's retired. We've always preferred each other's company to anybody else's. We both read a lot, and I watch ballgames on TV. Since getting our shots last February, we've been re-emerging like two box turtles emerging from hibernation.

Take a few steps, pause, and then take a few more: the only national masking policy we really need.

The Big Lie That Makes Vladimir Putin Smile

There's a word to describe political movements that emphasize ethnic, racial and religious solidarity over citizenship and pluralistic values, but it has unpleasant historical associations. Using it only causes political conversations to end in bitterness and name-calling.

So let us simply observe that what's going on in today's Republican Party represents the seeming fulfillment of Vladimir Putin's ambitions for the Trump presidency. Undermining confidence in elections has long been Job One in the Kremlin: discrediting democracy to promote strongman rule. But Putin's too cynical to understand America.

It matters not to him that the strongman in question is an incompetent blowhard, a clownish figure in elevator shoes. One of America's two dominant political parties is in the process of losing its collective mind. Indeed the very preposterousness of Donald Trump's "Big Lie" about being cheated out of an election he lost by seven million votes—claims rejected for lack of evidence in more than sixty courts of law—only enhances their allure for conspiratorial thinkers.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," Voltaire wrote. The harder Trump's lies are to believe, the more fervently True Believers strive to affirm them. Longtime Republican strategist Sarah Longwell describes the MAGA faithful as "QAnon curious," professing faith in "deep-state" mythology. "A lot of these base voters are living in a post-truth nihilism," she told the New York Times, "where you believe in nothing and think that everything might be untrue."

To give you some idea, a GOP-sponsored election recount in Phoenix, Arizona has been searching for traces of bamboo on two million ballots—based upon a rumor that votes were flown in from South Korea.

No, I couldn't make that up.

Attending rallies of like-minded believers in MAGA hats is important, yes. But so is the ritual purging of heretics like Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who has sinned against the faith by pointing out that Trump lost the election badly. For this she is being removed from her leadership role in the House, to be replaced by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a one-time New York "moderate" who has taken to parroting Trump's pronouncements word for word.

Claiming she wants to reassure Americans about "election security," Stefanik and allies like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are unwittingly following the Kremlin playbook. Back in January, McCarthy professed anger at Trump for raising the mob that attacked Congress. Now he contends that anybody like Cheney blaming him for the Capitol riot is "not being productive," and needs to be removed from House leadership.

That said, Democrats, and Liz Cheney herself, are mistaken to speak of Republican "cowardice." It's not fear of Trump that drives them so much as naked ambition. And not ambition for the party or the country, it's important to understand, but for themselves.

One thing Republicans in safe districts know is that the MAGA faithful hold the balance of power. A recent CNN poll showed upwards of 70 percent of Republicans have bought the Trumpian "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. So if they want to remain in Congress, it's best to keep skepticism about the claim to themselves at least until the 2022 primaries are over.

And then what? Well, that's the big question, isn't it? Seventy percent of Republicans amounts to less than one third of the electorate. And shrinking, as GOP party membership has gradually declined in recent years. Trump's latest favorable rating was 32 percent. Try as they may, Republican state legislatures won't be able to prevent Democrats and Independents from voting in 2022. Indeed, GOP efforts to make voting harder could very likely end up discouraging their own voters.

Anyway, here's how things look to one informed Republican, Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix) Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Sellers: "In Maricopa County, only a third of the voters are Republican," he told the New York Times. "A third are Democrats and a third are independents. If you don't even have a third of the voting public altogether, how on earth can you expect to win over enough independents and others?"

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has spoken of the Cheney purge as "a circular firing squad."

My own favorite Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, put it more colorfully on CBS's Face the Nation. "Right now," he said, the Republican Party is "basically the Titanic. We're like in the middle of this slow sink. We have a band playing on the deck, telling everybody it's fine, and meanwhile as I've said, Donald Trump is running around trying to find women's clothing to get on the first lifeboat."

"You don't have to be a genius to succeed in politics," the late Robert F. Kennedy once told a friend of mine. "But you do have to be able to count."

To MAGA believers, counting is heresy. But not to the rest of us.

Should We 'Cancel' That Roth Biographer Just Because He's A Creep?

As a rule, I read few biographies, and certainly not of authors, people whose most significant life events are spent alone. In my case, Churchill, Swift, and Dostoyevsky are the exceptions that prove the rule; world-historical figures who can't be understood outside the context of their times.

So I'd already decided not to bother with Blake Bailey's ballyhooed new book, Philip Roth: The Biography—even though Roth was a friendly acquaintance who'd given me help and encouragement way back when. After all, his novels were semi-autobiographical; his memoirs a veritable hall of mirrors.

I agreed entirely with what Bill Clinton said in awarding Roth the National Medal of Arts: "What James Joyce did for Dublin, what William Faulkner did for Yoknapatawpha County, Philip Roth has done for Newark." (Actually, historian Eric Alterman wrote the lines.) Roth rendered the city's dense particularity universal through the stories he told.

To know Roth at his best, read his 1997 novel American Pastoral, a penetrating portrayal of the "the indigenous American berserk" of the 1960s.

Actually, it was Newark that got us acquainted. I'd reviewed his baseball book The Great American Novel, stressing that he wasn't so much a "Jewish novelist"—a label he resisted—as a "New Jersey regionalist."

New Jersey, the Smart Aleck State.

He wrote asking how somebody in Arkansas knew all that, and urged me to expand upon the theme. The result was an essay called "The Artificial Jewboy," about growing up Irish-Catholic among Jews in neighboring Elizabeth. (One character in American Pastoral, a former Miss New Jersey, has my exact biography, right down to St. Genevieve's parish.) My essay contains more clumsy sentences and awkward kicks at the stars than the rest of the book it's printed in. But Roth saw something worthwhile and helped get it published. I've remained eternally grateful.

He'd even helped me see an aspect of my wife's character I'd taken for granted. After a long lunch at his country place in Connecticut, we'd gone for a walk in the woods. An excellent mimic, Roth could be terribly funny. He got Diane in a single take. What he liked most about her, he said, was her reserve.

"She doesn't care how famous I am," he said. "She's trying to figure out if she likes me in spite of it."

He thought that she hadn't yet decided.

That's Diane, who tended to be leery of literary narcissists based upon a couple of hard-drinking celebrity authors we'd encountered along the way.

Through her daddy the coach, I told him, she'd grown up knowing famous ballplayers. Roth respected that. Groupies are the bane of all famous people.

Anyway, although we'd lost touch years before he died in 2018, I figured I had no need to read his biography.

I knew he'd had a couple of terrible marriages; for all his perceptiveness, he appeared to have terrible judgement about women. Or maybe it was a two-way street, as in my experience of life, it normally is. He'd always had fierce critics among feminists and professional Jews: the very fiercest have tended to be both.

A literary provocateur, Roth was far too easily provoked.

How bitterly ironic, then, that his seeming need to win arguments even after death led him to choose an authorized biographer who, within weeks of his book's successful launch, stood accused of rape and everything short of child molesting by a chorus of women—many of whom he'd pursued starting when they were his eighth grade students in a New Orleans middle school.

Faced with those accusations, which Blake Bailey and his attorney vigorously (if none too persuasively) deny, publisher W.W. Norton abruptly took the book out of print. At one level, the affair resembles Roth's novel The Human Stain, about a professor hounded for using the word "spook" (in the sense of "ghost") to describe missing students who turned out to be Black.

Is it right to "cancel" a book because the author's a creep? Put that way, no. The book exists independent of its author. As Eric Alterman puts it, "Many writers are terrible people. (I am perhaps not so great, myself.)"

I'll second that.

Or at least I would have before reading Eve Payton Crawford's Slate essay about Blake Bailey, her eighth grade teacher who raped her when she was a college girl of 19. "You really can't blame me," he said when she cried. "I've wanted you since the day we met."

She was 12 that day. "I still wore underwear with Minnie Mouse on them," Crawford writes. Along with an exhaustively-reported companion piece titled "Mr. Bailey's Class," Slate depicts a sexual predator in action, flattering young teens and becoming deeply involved in their personal lives for years before making his move.

A very sick puppy who made the mistake of soliciting fame, and the fate of whose Philip Roth biography interests me not at all.

Drive-By Journalism Obscures Truth About Police Shootings And Black Lives

Cable news programming suggestion: Instead of filling every broadcast with the latest presumptive police outrage, try covering the latest drive-by killings too. Show us more of what's really happening on the streets where we live. Newspapers and local TV are already on it.

For example, the lead headline in the Chicago Sun-Times on the morning after police released video of the fatal shooting of 13 year-old Adam Toledo by a Chicago cop read "Girl, 7, fatally shot at McDonald's drive-thru."

Witnesses told reporters they were astonished by the brazenness of the gang-bangers who opened fire on a rival in front of many onlookers and several security cameras. The little girl seemingly got in the way.

Young Adam Toledo, of course, was involved in a similar shooting episode immediately before his deadly confrontation with police.

Heaven knows, Chicagoans have reason to be leery of their city's police department, but context is crucial.

This morning's headline in the Little Rock newspaper was "Peace urged after man killed, toddlers hurt by park gunfire." The toddlers were aged three and four. More collateral damage, as it's called when soldiers shoot civilians. Two young men playing basketball were the intended target; one survived. The little ones are expected to recover. Last month, however, a ten year-old girl was killed in a similar incident in another city park.

In Miami last weekend, three year-old Elijah LaFrance was killed when a gun battle erupted at a children's birthday party — the third little kid murdered there in recent months. The others were girls, aged 7 and 6.

Gang-bangers, however, don't wear body cams, so TV footage is harder to come by. Also, because filing wrongful death lawsuits against street thugs is futile, CNN's roving cast of pundits and personal injury lawyers aren't primed to respond with appropriate indignation.

"When a suspect is a person of color, there is no attempt to de-escalate the situation," civil rights lawyer and ubiquitous talking head Ben Crump said regarding a recent incident in Knoxville, Tennessee. "Police shoot first and ask questions later, time after time, because Black lives are afforded less value."

Regarding the value of Black lives, here's some important information: According to an extraordinary piece of reporting by Rick Rojas in The New York Times, Anthony J. Thompson, age 17, killed by Knoxville police in an armed confrontation in a cramped bathroom at Austin-East Magnet High School, was the fifth student from that campus to die of gun violence during this school year.

Five kids, all African-American, all shot dead at one school in one year.

"It makes it harder to get out of the house every day knowing another child has lost their life," one victim's older sister said.

So far, however, this ongoing tragedy has drawn little commentary on CNN or MSNBC. "Among our elites," my friend Bob Somerby writes, "no one cares about the gun violence which takes so many other lives. It doesn't matter if Black people get shot and killed unless it's done by police."

At his website The Daily Howler, Somerby has been writing acid commentaries about the melodramatic coverage given police/civilian shootings. In the wake of the Derek Chauvin murder trial, the sad and dangerous truth is that on anything regarding cops and race, you pretty much can't expect anything like accurate, dispassionate journalism from too much of the news media. Particularly not the cable networks.

Uncomfortable facts are routinely ignored or suppressed to preserve the good versus evil story line. Pundits appear on national TV to opine about complex life and death situations without having the first idea what they're talking about. Once the basic storyline gets laid down, it rarely changes.

Consider, for example, the tragic killing of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb by a veteran officer who says she mistakenly fired her handgun instead of a Taser—a story so improbable it almost has to be true, and will almost certainly result in a felony conviction. Wright apparently told his mother that he was stopped for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror.

Pundits on PBS, MSNBC, the New York Times, and Washington Post have given the air-freshener angle a workout. Al Sharpton mentioned it during an emotional eulogy at Wright's funeral. So why were Brooklyn Center police arresting Wright, and why did he flee?

Well, it turns out that Wright had been charged with aggravated armed robbery in 2019, released on bail, subsequently picked up for carrying a pistol and fleeing police, released again, and then blew off a court hearing on the gun charge. He had to figure they'd keep him locked up this time.

So he tried to run. Terrible decision.

Not a capital crime, no. And still a tragedy.

But if you're one of those posting indignant Facebook screeds about cops stopping drivers for minor infractions, now you know why.

In Darkest Arkansas, Zealots Cruelly Overrule A Conservative Governor

How can somebody like me possibly live in darkest Arkansas, well-meaning correspondents sometimes want to know. And when the state legislature is in session, I do sometimes wonder. All I can say is that I'm glad Arkansas is a state, not a country. Because I'm stuck on the place, mostly for personal reasons having nothing to do with politics.

"Thank God for Mississippi," people here used to say, on the grounds that our neighbor to the east had an even more embarrassing history.

Of course if Arkansas legislators didn't have the federal courts to hide behind, they might be forced to act like adults instead of staging a spectacle for the backwoods churches. Because that's all it is: a political puppet show. It's the fundamental unseriousness of right-wing culture war posturing that astonishes: taking militant stands against imaginary threats and passing laws that have no chance of passing constitutional muster.

And it's happening all over the South and rural Midwest. Anywhere white rural voters predominate, it's the same story.

The Arkansas legislature has outdone itself this year, prompting even mild-mannered Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to veto a particularly mean-spirited piece of legislation forbidding medical treatment to transgendered adolescents—and never mind their doctors and parents. "The Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act," they call it.

Hutchinson's no liberal. For example, he'd previously signed a bill forbidding transgendered girls from competing in girl's high school sports—a situation that has arisen in the state exactly never. Right-wing imagineers envision a mortal threat to women's athletics everywhere.

Meanwhile, the University of Arkansas fields nationally-ranked teams in women's basketball, softball, and other sports. World class identical twin pole vaulters recently graduated from the Fayetteville campus and began pharmacy school while continuing to train—a veritable wonder to behold.

But that's mere reality, of little interest to zealots.

The governor also signed a law allowing health care professionals to refuse treatment to any patient whose real or suspected sexual proclivities they disapprove of. Something else that is going to happen rarely, if ever, in real life. Arkansas doctors do subscribe to the Hippocratic Oath.

Gov. Hutchinson called the bill forbidding treatment to transgendered youth both cruel and unnecessary. Possibly he has a close friend or relative with a child of ambiguous gender. That's often all it takes to make people act decently. He told a reporter for the New York Times that fellow Republicans too often acted "out of fear of what could happen, or what our imagination says might happen, versus something that's real and tangible."

Yes, exactly.

Hutchinson's was a futile political gesture. Arkansas governors have no real veto power. It requires only a majority vote to overturn them, which the legislature did within 24 hours by three to one. The Arkansas ACLU has vowed to challenge the law in federal court. (The bill also says that insurance companies can refuse to cover such treatments in adult patients.)

Elsewhere, it's been one bill after another aimed directly at federal courts. In March, Arkansas passed a near-total abortion ban. Gov. Hutchinson told reporters he'd have preferred a law that made exceptions for rape and incest, which the new law doesn't. Nor for fetal anomalies.

In short, if a 14 year old girl is impregnated by her drunk uncle (insert hillbilly joke here) she must carry even a gravely deformed fetus to term regardless. The penalty is ten years in prison.

Appearing with CNN's Dana Bash on State of the Union, Hutchinson admitted that the new law "is not constitutional under Supreme Court cases right now. I signed it because it is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade…I think there's a very narrow chance that the Supreme Court will accept that case, but we'll see."

Elsewhere, Arkansas legislators have declared all federal gun laws null and void within the state, a direct challenge to the Constitution's Supremacy Clause that is absolutely certain to fail. Serious gun nuts don't care. They don't expect to win. They just want their collective amygdala massaged—the fight or flight organ buried deep in the limbic brain.

Pretty much the reason they're gun nuts to begin with.

Which is closely-related to the reason the legislature brought Biblical Creationism back, mandating a law permitting fundamentalist theology to be taught in public school science classes. This one I take personally, as I covered the 1981 trial in Little Rock federal court over the "Balanced Treatment of Creation-Science and Evolution Science Act" when eminent scientists like Stephen Jay Gould convinced federal judge William Overton that the Arkansas law represented an unconstitutional "establishment of religion."

Same as it ever was.

Look, it's pretty basic. A large proportion of America's rural, white folks lost it over Barack Obama, and they ain't come back yet. They thought Trump was going to return America to 1954, but now he's gone and they're still hiding out in the woods.

Sorry, Wingnuts: You Don't Get To 'Cancel' Baseball This Year

Barring natural disasters or unforeseen health crises, chances are I'll watch around 150 Red Sox games during the 2021 season. Along with parts of other contests as the pennant races advance. And would have done, it's important to emphasize, whether deposed strongman Donald J. Trump likes it or not.

Boycott baseball? I literally can't remember not being a baseball fan. Home movies exist of me imitating the home run trot of Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman Howie Schultz, whom I've otherwise forgotten. One of my epic childhood memories is walking up a darkened stadium ramp at New York's Polo Grounds holding my father's hand into the astonishing green of the playing field and the actual, physical presence of Willie Mays—a mythic figure in my boyish imagination.

As for the All-Star game, I normally take a pass for the same reason I skip Spring training games. They're a relic of the radio era, when American League fans got to see National League standouts only at All-Star time. Apart from the honor, most players would rather have the day off. They're strictly exhibitions, not real contests.

Selfishly, I'd have preferred that Major League Baseball avoid political controversy altogether. To me, the game's a refuge, a few blessed hours when the daily ruck and moil of politics simply doesn't exist. But that could be my white privilege talking, to employ a phrase that also makes my feet itch.

Problem is, certain realities can't be avoided.

You can tell by the blundering, characteristically ungrammatical way former Boss Trump jumped into the controversy over Major League Baseball's pulling the 2021 All-Star game out of Atlanta to protest Georgia's new voting law, hyperbolically characterized by Joe Biden as "Jim Crow on steroids."

Continuing to whine about the 2021 presidential election that he lost by seven million votes, Trump complained, "For years the Radical Left Democrats have played dirty by boycotting products when anything from that company is done or stated in any way that offends them. Now they are going big time with WOKE CANCEL CULTURE and our sacred elections."

He produced a list of major corporations including Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines JPMorgan Chase, ViacomCBS, Citigroup, and Merck and demanded his supporters boycott their products.

'We can play the game better than them," Trump boasted. "The Radical Left will destroy our Country if we let them. We will not become a Socialist Nation." Then came the punchline: "Happy Easter!"

Last Easter, it will be recalled, Trump was doing PR for COVID-19, urging parishioners to crowd into churches in defiance of social-distancing.

As usual, this is upside-down. It's mainly the political right in the United States that has long practiced shunning those with whom they disagree. Think Dixie Chicks. Think Colin Kaepernick.

Even French fries became "Freedom Fries" after France's UN Ambassador warned President George W. Bush against the folly of invading Iraq. (Months later, a friend sent me a photo documenting a cynical joke I'd made: a vending machine in an Arkansas truck stop offering 50-cent "Freedom Ticklers.")

So don't "Cancel Culture" me; Republicans invented it.

As for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's phony victimization, there was nothing subtle about the staged iconography of his signing ceremony. Seven middle-aged white men posing in front of an idealized painting of a pre-Civil War plantation. The only thing missing was a Rebel flag.

Arresting a Black woman legislator for having the temerity to knock on the office door was an added touch.

Kemp, see, had incurred Trumpist wrath by defending the integrity of Georgia's presidential vote and its subsequent Senate runoffs—all narrowly won by Democrats. The purpose of the new law is to cover his political butt by making it marginally harder to vote, thereby suppressing Black turnout.

What other reason could there be for reducing the number of electoral drop boxes in Metro Atlanta from 94 to 23, and moving them inside government buildings shuttered after normal working hours?

For making it much harder to vote absentee?

For giving a legislative committee power to move precincts around and make it difficult for voters who show up at the wrong place to file provisional ballots?

For making it illegal to give water to voters waiting in long lines? As if Black voters don't cherish their hard-won right to vote and would give up and go home.

Yes, the amazing Stacey Abrams can probably overcome such cynical ploys all over again. So just in case, the new law takes election supervision away from honorable Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and gives it to a GOP-dominated legislative committee that is also empowered—get this—to remove county election officials for replacements of their own choosing.

Jim Crow? Not really. This is basically election reform, Kremlin-style.

Meanwhile, play ball! Because if Trump is fighting MLB and Coca-Cola, much less Citigroup and CBS, then Trump is losing.

All over again.

As Prophecies Fail, Monetizing The Gullible Is Still QAnon's True Mission

Am I the only one who feels like I'm living in an old-fashioned monster movie, with mobs of chanting peasants bearing pitchforks and torches as they march on a dark, foreboding castle? Or am I just spending too much time watching TV news and reading about politics online?

Anybody who, like me, watched the first couple of episodes of the HBO documentary series Q: Into the Storm would sure have to wonder. I won't be watching the rest; my creep quotient has been exceeded. The very idea that this international cast of oddballs could keep millions in thrall to the lunatic delusion that a secretive cabal of Satan-worshipping, baby-killing pedophiles led by Hillary Clinton rules the world and that only Donald Trump can save us…

Well, it's like something out of Masters of Atlantis, Charles Portis's droll novel about two flimflam artists who found a religious sect based upon the lost wisdom of a kingdom beneath the sea. Soon they fall to fighting over accumulated heresies, much as QAnon adepts appear to be falling out as one failed prophecy follows another.

Herman Melville's The Confidence-Man also comes to mind. Americans have always had a weakness for mystic lore.

The Internet allows, nay encourages, like-minded cranks and opportunists to communicate worldwide: California, New Jersey, South Africa, and the Philippines. Some of the same types who peddle extended auto warranties or trick you into giving your Social Security number over the phone are doing their best to monetize an ever-evolving delusional system.

So who is the mysterious "Q," author of thousands of gnomic prophecies? Steve Bannon? Stephen Miller? Trump himself? Not possible. The first two are too cynical even to fake the required level of superstition. Trump's incapable of talking about anything other than himself for any sustained period.

The real answer is: Who cares?

Pretty much the first thing that strikes you on your initial visit to a penitentiary or a psychiatric hospital is how ordinary everybody seems, like people you might encounter at the grocery store. Indeed, most QAnon devotees appear to conduct their ordinary lives alright: buying cars, getting haircuts, taking the trash to the curb, etc.

It's only when HBO's subjects touch upon their ruling passion that one understands that they're rapt with delusion, imagining evil conspiracies and dark plots--carrying not flaming torches, but little glowing screens.

Otherwise, it's downright medieval: it used to be Jews that murdered Christian infants. Now it's Democrats. In the Sixteenth Century the bubonic plague needed to be explained; now it's Covid-19.

Reasoning with adepts of arcane lore is largely futile. I once had a neighbor who was deeply into astrology, pondering the heavens, casting detailed horoscopes and ascribing deep significance to the movements of the stars. He was a slender fellow with a deep, sepulchral voice you'd expect to hear coming from a 300-pound defensive tackle. In real life he was a banker.

So one day my wife complained out loud about the chaotic state of my office. (I used to urge her to avoid going in there if it bothered her. Orderly filing systems never worked for me. I could find things only by remembering where they were. Now I have a computer.) So anyway, the neighbor laughed his booming laugh.

"Well, it's a sure thing he's not a Virgo," he chortled.

Uh-oh. Unless my birth certificate's forged, a Virgo is precisely what I am. A Virgo on the cusp of Libra, whatever that is, a combination supposedly making me deeply inclined toward order; basically a neat freak.

Twelve to one odds in his favor, and my man had shot himself in the metaphorical foot. If you think it gave him pause, you've known no True Believers. Without pausing a beat, he recast my horoscope to reveal a hidden passion for a deeper order than my wife perceived. After all, what is writing but the process of putting words in proper places?

Concluding that astrology is simply humbug was beyond his reach. To be fair, the newspaper in which you're reading this column probably publishes horoscopes. It's an ancient, essentially harmless superstition.

Just so the impassioned necromancers of QAnon.

After the Trumpist mob failed in its attempt to reverse Dear Leader's electoral defeat on January 6, the faithful pivoted to a new prediction: The Storm, so called, would take place on March 4, with Trump triumphantly re-inaugurated and wreaking vengeance upon Satanic Democrats.

Mass hangings would follow outside the U.S. Capitol: Hillary, Bill Gates, George Soros. All the devil-worshipping child murderers would be put to death in photogenically grisly ways. Hanging would be too good for them.

Instead, Trump's stuck at Mar-a-Lago, giving meandering wedding toasts about the lost election, and going on Fox News to peddle fantasies about the January 6 rioters "hugging and kissing the police and the guards."

If he were your grandpa, you'd hide his car keys.

What Andrew Cuomo Should Have Remembered, Before He Acted Like A Fool

Advice for the lovelorn:

Dear Gov. Cuomo: Even if you're the boss—perhaps especially—when you're a 63 year-old man smitten by a lovely twenty-something at the office, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

First: It's crucial to wait for her to make the first move. Anything else, and you're just asking for trouble.

Second: Don't hold your breath.

See, normal old duffers are restrained by the primal male fear of being laughed at by beautiful women. After all, how keen were you to romance women in their sixties when you were 22? You're edging into grandpa territory. Of course, if you were a normal old fool, you probably wouldn't be governor of anywhere, much less New York.

Third, then: Keep your bait in the water. A man who's rich and powerful enough won't have to wait forever, although he'll probably end up wishing he'd never met the adventurous young thing who takes it.

(A corollary: if you were a handsome young prince instead of an aging politician, they'd be coming after you like murder hornets, 24/7. But that's perhaps a topic for another time, the whole subject of hereditary monarchs being more suitable for Disneyworld than the opinion page.)

Anyway, wasn't Gov. Cuomo reading newspapers during the Clinton administration? Apparently, he was not. Even at that, Bill Clinton was a comparatively youthful 49 when a 22 year-old former intern dreaming of "presidential kneepads" showed him her thong. And look what happened to him.

But then nobody ever learns, do they? And a good thing too, because what else would we do for entertainment?

If my tone strikes you as too jocular, that's because I think the entire Cuomo sexual harassment incident is vastly overblown. If he quits, he quits, although I suspect he's going to ride it out. Meanwhile, they're having a full-scale judicial investigation of a politician who stands charged with sending flowers to all the women in the office, hugging them too long, even asking a woman he met at a wedding if he could kiss her.

I'm with columnist Froma Harrop, who reacted with mock horror: "Imagine an Italian kissing people at a wedding party." The offended wedding guest pronounced herself 'confused and shocked and embarrassed,' a reaction the New York Times and Washington Post treated with grave solemnity."

Geez, I thought you were supposed to ask them. Me, I ended up getting married that way. But I digress.

"Sometimes a kiss is just a kiss, not an instrument of male domination in a patriarchal society," Harrop adds. "Or, in language sociologists might understand, it's 'a cultural construct.' Manhattan is home to a zillion cultures, each with its views and customs on kissing."

When my Uncle Tommy Connors married an Italian girl in Newark a million years ago, there was definitely a lot of kissing. Also wine and dancing. Not to mention amazing Italian food, a revelation to me at age ten. Aunt Mary turned out to be the warmest and kindest of my many aunts; a big hugger and kisser.

One woman says Cuomo put his hand under her blouse and fondled her, which if that could be proved would be the end of him. The governor says it never happened, and has issued a classic non-apology apology: "I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended," he said.

Oh, come off it, governor. You asked a young kid in the office if she'd consider having sex with a man in his sixties, and you're saying she misunderstood? No she didn't. "I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared," Charlotte Bennett said.

Subjectively speaking, she's rather a knockout, Miss Bennett. She may need to get used to men acting like idiots in her company. But there are limits, even for egotistical politicians. Smile at her. Tell her how nice she looks today. The End.

Cuomo insists he never touched anybody impurely, as they used to say in the confessional booth. Unless somebody can prove that he did, he'll likely get away with acting like an old rake. People are a little tired of feminist Puritanism. A lot of this is happening because the governor has long been seen as a bully and a jerk -- and may have committed other, non-sexual offenses. Many New Yorkers are only too glad to see him taken down a few notches.

But he's not my governor; I can live with it either way. Any inclination Cuomo may have had to seek higher office is probably over.

What Makes March Madness So Deeply, Beautifully American

To give you some idea, my personal Road to the Final Four, as the TV announcers call it, began in junior high. My buddy Don and I were apprentice basketball junkies, shooting buckets and getting into pickup games every afternoon. New Jersey kids, we became obsessed with the great Jerry West—"Zeke from Cabin Creek," they called him—and his West Virginia Mountaineers.

There wasn't much college basketball on TV back then, but we followed West's exploits from WWVA radio in Wheeling, which came booming in after dark. West Virginia was to us a remote and fabled land. We reveled in tales of Jerry West's carefree backwoods childhood, so different from our own. (Basically a fantasy too: West had a troubled family, and has struggled with depression all his life.)

After the games, WWVA played country music. I became probably the only kid in school to own three Hank Williams albums, not to mention Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys. By day, I listened to blues musicians like B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland on WNJR in Newark. This led indirectly to my enrolling at the University of Virginia, to marrying an Arkansas coach's daughter, and eventually following her home from school.

Speaking of remote and fabled lands.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. West's Mountaineers made it to the 1959 championship game, losing by one point to California. My own fascination with what's now called "March Madness," however, was only beginning. To me, the NCAA men's college basketball tournament is the nation's premier sporting event, and I'm so glad it's back.

For sheer Americana, nothing tops it. I still feel great gusts of Woody Guthrie-style patriotism just reading the first-round matchups. The Creighton Bluejays vs. the Gauchos of Cal Santa Barbara: An Omaha Jesuit school playing an elite public university with its own beach. Or how about Iona College (New York) vs. Alabama (Tuscaloosa)? Oregon vs. Virginia Commonwealth? I could go on.

As somebody whose imagination has always functioned geographically, one of my favorite rituals is the pregame player introductions. I mean, how often does Muscatine, Iowa see its favorite son (Joe Weiskamp, Iowa Hawkeyes ) featured on national TV? He has three teammates from Cedar Rapids, one from The Bronx, and another from London, England.

"This land is your land, this land is my land…"

For no particular reason, I've always pulled for the Hawkeyes. Also the Kansas Jayhawks, Oklahoma Sooners, Rutgers, and Virginia. For reasons I probably needn't explain, I've always enjoyed watching Duke lose.

By now I guess it's clear that I watch more college basketball on TV than is entirely consistent with sanity. Always have. The good news is that the coach's daughter thinks this relatively normal behavior. It beats a lot of bad habits men are prone to develop.

For that matter, Razorback basketball did more than anything else to make me an Arkansas patriot. Back when we first moved to her hometown, I felt like a stranger on the sports page. It was all football, all the time. Twelve games a year, 353 days of talking about it. Snore.

I wasn't sure I could hack it living here.

Then Coach Eddie Sutton arrived from, yes, Creighton University, and the local sporting culture has never been the same. He recruited three wondrously talented black Arkansas kids, Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer, and Marvin Delph—the so-called "Triplets"--they soon made the cover of Sports Illustrated, and everything changed. And not just on the sports page.

The basketball Hogs became the national team of Arkansas; I became a local patriot. Nobody here will ever forget U.S. Reed's 1981 miraculous half-court buzzer-beater defeating defending National Champion Louisville. Reed's feat led to the diverting spectacle of Texas Coach Abe Lemons—the sardonic Will Rogers of college basketball—"Calling the Hogs" on national TV.

Nearly every serious fan of March Madness has similar memories. Here in Arkansas, of course, we still savor the 1994 National Championship, all the sweeter for defeating Duke in the title game. I'd written a profile of Nolan Richardson for a local magazine, predicting big things for the then-embattled second year coach whose first Arkansas team had struggled with players unsuited to his full-court style.

My reasoning was simple: Having attended many basketball practices in my day, I found his well-organized and uniquely challenging. His physical presence and personal charisma made his players fear and love him. He knew talent when he saw it. Not everybody does. He'd won big everywhere else; he'd win big at Arkansas. Simple as that.

Anyway, it's been years since the coach's daughter and I have missed watching a Razorback game together. We even watched Arkansas win the 2000 SEC Tournament in a Manhattan hotel room, arriving fashionably late to my own book party.

And if your team loses? Pick another. There are 64 of them, from sea to shining sea.

While Fox And Trump Make Stupid Noises, Biden Is Busy Governing

So it turns out that the whole time Sleepy Joe Biden was hiding in the basement, he was working on a plan to render congressional Republicans irrelevant. Which, for the foreseeable future, they certainly are.

If you don't remember—why should you?—the GOP literally had no party platform in 2020. It was Trump, Trump, Trump. A cult of personality. What they didn't count on was a strong majority of Americans being all Trumped-out. And so now they've got nothing to talk about.

Except, oh yes, the budget deficit. A deficit that literally tripled on Trump's watch, leading many to doubt that it was ever such a terrible threat to begin with. Washington Republicans who stood quiet as deficits soared over the past four years are donning green eyeshades and calling themselves "fiscal conservatives" again.

And the public response is, "Yeah, whatever."

Meanwhile, although President Biden's crucial $1.9 trillion Covid relief package squeaked through Congress without a single Republican vote, it was unanimously endorsed by the GOP-majority National Governor's Association. Unanimously, as in every single one. And don't look now, but the governors are also pushing hard for a massive infrastructure investment, the next big item on Biden's agenda.

Something Trump yammered about for four years but did nothing about. Exactly like his long-promised health care plan.

Hint: neither plan ever existed.

Biden understood that congressional Republicans were stuck in Trump/McConnell mode and had no intention of negotiating seriously about the Covid relief bill, so he went big. Polls showed that upwards of 77 percent of Americans supported the bill, but not one GOP Senator or Congressman.

People, it's hard to get 77 percent approval of March Madness or pepperoni pizza. And they all voted against it? Exactly what do they want to talk about then? Oh yeah, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.

Neither of which Joe Biden has said single word about, but I digress.

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson got it exactly right: "If Biden can't get Republicans to vote for a bill that three-quarters of the public supports, he probably can't get them to vote for anything. He should keep reaching across the aisle but shouldn't expect anyone to reach back."

True, several Republican Senators offered a laughable compromise about one-third the size of the administration's bill. Biden made nice with them, but when Lucy put down the football, he made no attempt to kick it.

As a result, by this time next year, God willing, when the Covid pandemic is a sad memory—thanks to Biden's use of federal authorities and the National Guard to supercharge the vaccine rollout—when people are going to ballgames and concerts, when the economy's growing and life feels normal again, GOP plans to sandbag Democrats in mid-term elections may not work out.

This bill will transform American life.

Then there's all the stuff President Biden's not doing. He won't help Trump acolytes play uproar. He won't rise to the bait, being not so much the anti-Trump as the un-Trump. If Biden has even mentioned his predecessor's name since moving into the White House, I can't recall it. Instead of being the embattled emcee of a reality-TV program, he governs.

When there's a weather-related disaster in Texas, the President of the United States shows up. He doesn't pick fights with the governor or throw paper towels, he commiserates and offers practical assistance. When 96 year-old Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP presidential candidate—a World War II hero and the living embodiment of America's "Greatest Generation"—announced that he'd been diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer, Biden went to visit his old friend at his home. Common decency.

Trump did and said nothing, possibly because while Dole supported his 2020 re-election campaign, in mid-December he told the Kansas City Star, "The election is over and [Joe] Biden will be president on January 20. I know the president has not conceded and he may never concede, but he will not be in the White House on January 21."

Meanwhile if the former inhabitant expects the Biden White House to enlist in his constant public feuds, he'll be disappointed. This president appears to understand that the more conflict he engenders, the more fiercely people will oppose him. So he's dialed it down, emphasizing empathy and competence over repartee. Probably this behavior this comes naturally to a 78 year-old back-patter and schmoozer.

So far it's definitely working. People don't wake up either titillated or dreading what their president has done overnight. And while a big majority of Republicans think Biden somehow cheated his way into the White House, they no longer seem to feel very strongly about it. Along with overwhelming support for his Covid relief bill, some 70 percent approve of how he's handling the pandemic.

But then, as Jennifer Rubin puts it, Biden never promised "to unify Washington, he promised to unify the country."

In Racial Debacle At Smith College, A Warning To The 'Woke'

Had I not once spent a semester living adjacent to the Smith College campus years ago, I'd probably never have read Michael Powell's extraordinary New York Times account of a tragicomic racial debacle there.

Ho-hum. Isn't this what they do at these fancy private colleges anymore: turn themselves inside-out in furious arguments about race and sexuality?

Me, I was teaching at a nearby state university. Our home in the woods had burned down and a colleague on sabbatical generously offered his Northampton house rent-free.

I don't believe I ever set foot on the Smith campus, although our beagle Joan cleverly turned herself into a campus dog and gained several pounds. It took months to work her back into shape after we moved back to the country.

Nevertheless, what happened at Smith College caught my eye partly because I'd had an experience somewhat like it, albeit on a purely personal scale. At Smith, a young Black student was approached by a (white) campus security officer who asked why she was eating all by herself in a dormitory closed for the summer, and was she OK.

Definitely not. The student took to Facebook to complain that the experience had left her near "meltdown." "All I did was be Black," Oumou Kanoute wrote. "It's outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color." She hyperventilated about the security guard's "lethal weapon."

She accused several college employees of bigotry, publishing their photos and email addresses.

The campus erupted into an episode of moral panic like those that have periodically swept New England since the 17th century. Smith president Kathleen McCartney offered a fulsome, some would say groveling, apology and suspended several employees. The Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN reported the outrage at face value. Militant students made denunciations and threats against the suspended employees.

"Racist" was the least of it.

Smith College announced "anti-bias" training for staff and faculty, complete with intrusive psychological queries. The ACLU demanded separate dormitories for "students of color." (A practice formerly known as "racial segregation," but who's keeping score?)

Eventually, the college got around to investigating the offended student's complaints, hiring a law firm experienced in such probes. Uh-oh. Pretty much none of her allegations checked out. The security guard, like all campus cops, was unarmed. The employees she pilloried had been off duty that day.

One falsely accused janitor quit his job. "I don't know if I believe in white privilege," he told a reporter. "I believe in money privilege."

Tuition and fees at Smith College come to $78,000 a year.

The college released the report exonerating its employees, but they got no apologies. They were pretty much all laid off due to Covid anyway. Ms. Kanoute seems no longer available for comment, probably best for all concerned.

My own experience at the large state university up the road was comparatively benign, although it could easily have wrecked my academic career. It definitely helped me decide I didn't want one.

As a graduate of a Southern university (U.Va.), it took me a while to understand that I'd arrived on campus under suspicion. Granted, I'd met people in Charlottesville who hadn't gotten over the Civil War, but they were regarded as cranks. And true, certain Massachusetts colleagues openly patronized the person described as my "pretty little wife" due to her Arkansas accent, but ordinary New Englanders asked her questions just to hear her talk. No harm, no foul.

Then I assigned a failing grade to a Black student, basically to be sure she was alive. Margaret had done poorly on the mid-term, and then vanished. She submitted no term paper, and was a no-show for the final. I figured an "F" would smoke her out if she hadn't left school. Indeed, she did turn up with a preposterous alibi about cutting her foot on a discarded light bulb.

I agreed to let her make up the work. The paper she turned in was derisory. Her exam revealed no familiarity with the course work. I gave her a minimal passing grade and figured we were done.

The good news is that the subsequent formal investigation was conducted by a senior faculty member not associated with my department's "radical" faction. After conducting interviews and scrutinizing Margaret's written work—what little there was of it—he ruled that I'd treated her as strictly as I treated all my students, finding no evidence of racial bias.

That was a joke. I was a pushover.

Margaret, however, was a pioneer. In basketball, it's called "working the refs." In academia, it's known as "critical race theory."

A few days after my exoneration, a colleague commiserated that an "aristocratic Southerner" like me must find State U's diverse student population challenging. Ethnically, I am an Irish Catholic from Elizabeth, N.J.

I figured I needed to quit before I got fired.

GOP Will Decline Until Trump Implodes -- Like His Abandoned Casino

"You don't have to be a genius to succeed in politics," the late Robert F. Kennedy once told a friend of mine. "But you do have to be able to count."

In a nutshell, that's why the Republican Party needs somehow to shed itself of former Boss Trump or, for practical purposes, cease to exist. Practical purposes defined as winning national elections.

Polls show that strong majorities of GOP voters have been taken in by Trump's biggest and most fundamental lie: that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him due to massive voter fraud. Never mind that Trump's peerless team of crackpot lawyers failed in 60 separate state and federal courts to prove a single claim. Not one. Nor that the infinitely cunning Democrats somehow managed to lose congressional seats while also cheating Trump.

Never mind too that Republican election officials in Georgia, to name just one state Trump lost, recounted the votes three times without changing the result; nor that two Trump-endorsed candidates then proceeded to lose U.S. Senate runoff elections there and promptly conceded defeat.

The simple fact is that record turnout buried Trump by seven million votes nationwide. True Believers, however, know what they think. George Orwell put it this way in his classic political satire 1984 : "In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense."

Orwell also understood that denying reality was ultimately fatal. A ship's captain can deny the existence of icebergs and turn off the radar, but icebergs can sink ships regardless of popular opinion.

Blinded by the cult of Big Brother Trump, almost three-quarters of Republican voters profess to believe that he actually won, that Joe Biden's presidency is illegitimate, and that they'll support Trump again in 2024.

Bless their gullible hearts.

Two quick caveats: first, the Republican Party is shrinking like a proverbial iceberg in the Gulf Stream. Three quarters of GOP voters is a smaller proportion of the general electorate than it was six months ago. Second, that if one-quarter of Republicans refuse to support Trump, he can stage all the MAGA rallies he wants, but he cannot win a national election.

In Arkansas, where I live, two prominent Republicans are sending up flares as the good ship GOP sails into dangerous waters. First came Jim Hendren, a retired fighter pilot, veteran state legislator, and state Senate majority leader. OK, so he waited until after the election and the failed January 6 coup attempt, but Hendren released a nine-minute video making his contempt for Trump and Trumpism clear.

He singled out Trump's 2016 slandering of Mexican immigrants as rapists, his ridicule of a Gold Star family, and his mockery of the late Sen. John McCain's heroism. "I watched the former President actively fan the flame of racist rhetoric, make fun of those with disabilities, bully his enemies, and talk about women in ways that would never be tolerated in my home or business," he said.

"Then for months," he continued "I watched as members of my own party and our former president tried to overthrow the results of a fair and free election ... with lies, with false statements, conspiracy theories, and attempts to subvert the Constitution."

In subsequent newspaper interview, Hendren got down to the arithmetic: "There's a real danger that the Republican Party is going to be one that you can't win a primary without being a Trump supporter, and you can't win a general by being a Trump supporter," he said. "What would have happened, then, is we've taken a party that was about principle and about conservative government to one that is about one man and a personality. And that is a race that doesn't end well for the GOP."

One can certainly quibble with Hendren's characterization of Arkansas-style conservatism. Also, it's widely suspected that he's setting up to run as an independent gubernatorial candidate against Trump's former Assistant Liar Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has vowed to protect the state from being taken over by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Seriously, she has.

Hendren's uncle, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has made similar noises, appearing with CNN's Dana Bash to say that he cannot under any circumstances support Trump in 2024. Like Wyoming Rep. Liz, Cheney, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, and my personal favorite, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, they're making a principled attempt to rescue the GOP from the Trumpist delusion.

Or at least to be there to pick up the pieces in the quite likely event that Trump self-destructs between now and 2024.

Did you see that Trump Casino they imploded in Atlantic City last week? Like that.

In Winter Storm, Saving The Calves Requires Tough (And Tender) People

OK, so you've got to shovel the car out and keep the water faucets dripping. You may need jumper cables to get the fool thing running. Not that you really need to go anywhere.

At least you're not a cattle rancher. Because your country cousins aren't getting much sleep this week. Stubborn beasts that they are, a million cows out in the boondocks are deciding that conditions are just right for giving birth. Ten below, thirty mph winds and driving snow? Perfect.

Of course, it's not really a decision. Back last spring when they were bred, winter seemed far away. Even so, there's nothing like a blizzard to send a cow into labor. Lovely Suzanne, the sweetheart of my small herd, chose just such a February night to deliver her first calf on windswept high ground near the hay ring. I feared that the little heifer, wet from afterbirth, would freeze to death before morning.

Fortunately, the pasture gate was close. So I picked her up, backed out the gate, and kicked it shut. Then I carried her to the barn about 50 yards away. Suzanne anticipated my intentions, ran clear around the barn and was waiting in a stall before we got there. I don't know which surprised me more: her intelligence or her trust. We named calf Violet, and she grew to be the image of her mother, sweet-natured and lovely.

Along with blizzard conditions and the coldest temperatures in 20 years, what got me thinking about Suzanne and Violet was a Facebook post a friend sent me depicting an old boy on the frozen steppes of Oklahoma, wallowing in a hot tub with an Angus calf he'd saved.

Posted by Lacie Lowry, an Oklahoma City TV journalist, at last reading it had drawn 1153 comments, mainly photos of rescued calves in unusual places: laundry rooms, kitchens, snuggling by fireplaces with children and dogs, even the occasional cat. Calves in pickup cabs, calves under hair-dryers, calves wrapped in comforters and blankets, even one calf wearing pajamas. Calves saved by farmers and ranchers all across the blizzard-battered Great Plains.

Trump voters most of them, it's worth remembering if you're an animal-loving Democrat prone to holding grudges. Decent folks, doing their best.

"The thing about cows," my Perry County neighbor Micky Hill once told me, "is they're always planning something." He'd been recounting the saga of the Milk Bandits, half-grown twin heifers who'd taken to stealing their younger siblings' milk.

"Daddy seen them calves was poorly," he said. "They just wasn't growing up right. Then one evening right around dusk, he seen them full-grown heifers sucking on mama cows. Not their own mamas. Other cows."

"So we took and put them in a borrowed pasture by themselves for a few weeks. Sure enough, the calves started thriving. Then come hay-feeding time, so we put them all back in together. Everything was fine for a little bit, but then the calves started looking sickly again."

"So one night Daddy slipped out to the barn after dark. Turned out them two heifers were chasing the Mama cows around until they'd get one cornered. Then they'd each take a side, grab an udder and lift the cow clean off the ground to where she couldn't kick or run away. They'd flat suck her dry in maybe half a minute, and then start in to chasing another one."

"And the thing is," he said "they knew to wait until dark."

The Milk Bandits had earned themselves a one-way trip to the sale barn. Likely somebody wanted them for breeding purposes, but there are no guarantees.

Like all mammals, cows definitely have minds of their own, and complex social lives. Researchers at Sydney University in Australia are just now discovering how complex. Doctoral candidate Alexandra Green has been recording and studying bovine vocalizations. She's catalogued some 333 separate sounds. She can identify individual voices without having to look.

"Ali's research is truly inspired," says her professor. "It is like she is building a Google translate for cows."

So what was I thinking when I sold Violet and her younger brother to a fellow from the next county? Well, that I couldn't let her breed with her father Bernie. She rode off down the road crying out, as they do.

However, by spring, Bernie had worn out his welcome. Trampling fences, fighting other bulls, breeding the neighbor's cows — the usual bull stuff.

Violet's new owner offered to return her as part of Bernie's sale price. Deal! If I live to be 100, I'll never forget Suzanne and Violet's reunion. Mother and daughter spotted each other from a distance as Violet stepped off the trailer. They galloped together, crying out with joy, and remained inseparable for days, nuzzling and licking each other.

I like to cried, as country people say, clearly not tough enough to be a real rancher.

Elitists, Idiotic Hallucinations, And Marjorie Taylor Greene

As a native of New Jersey—state motto: "Oh yeah, who says?"—I am congenitally immune to conspiracy theories.

Also impervious to the imbecile insults of he-man Trumpists obsessed with the imagined sexual preferences of strangers. While there is no level of invective to which I am incapable of sinking, editors urge me to keep it clean.

"You guys sleigh me," one guy taunted the other day regarding the Democrats' alleged loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

I mean, why bother?

Today I live in Arkansas, where our idiot legislature is in the process of enacting a Stand Your Ground law, which means that if you send me a hostile message and then get in my face, I'll be legally entitled to shoot you dead.

Or, at minimum, to sic Daisy the basset hound on you.

So be very careful.

But when the Congressmen (and women) get crazier than the anonymous emailers, things are clearly getting out of hand. How far out of hand? Well, here's what Sen. Mitch McConnell (!) said the other day with reference to Georgia's notorious Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene:

"Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country. Somebody who's suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.'s airplane is not living in reality. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families."

Quite so, although if I thought like Greene I'd wonder if she isn't a "crisis actor" pretending to be a lunatic to discredit conservatives.

But it's actually her constituents I worry about.

Back in 2018, Greene suggested on Facebook that California wildfires were started by a laser beam from space controlled by sinister Jewish bankers. She has written articles with headlines like "Democratic Party Involved With Child Sex, Satanism, and The Occult."

So naturally, her north Georgia district elected her to Congress. During the dark days of the last century, it wasn't necessary to be so excruciatingly polite about what H.L. Mencken called "the idiotic hallucinations of the cow States." Today, somebody's apt to call you an "elitist" for pointing out that the fine citizens of Georgia's 14th district are too dumb…

Well, that they've got some explaining to do.

Needless to say, Trump loves her, presumably all that was necessary to send her to Congress.

Of course, religious crackpots have been with us since the beginning of time. However, contemporary American political lunacy began with Rev. Jerry Falwell's promotion of The Clinton Chronicles during the 1990's—a series of bizarre, slickly-produced videos charging Arkansas' fun couple with embezzlement, drug smuggling, and murder.

After 12 years of Reagan and Bush, some Republicans simply lost their minds at the prospect of a Democratic president. Ever since FDR, they've pretty much done that whenever a Democrat takes office. I once had the opportunity to ask Rev. Falwell, on camera, if the Sixth Commandment forbidding adultery was more important than the one that condemns bearing false witness.

Falwell said both sins were equally bad. But he clearly didn't like being asked. He also claimed to have no idea if the wild allegations in the The Clinton Chronicles were true or not, a pretty shabby alibi.

For that matter, a friend of my wife's once got shown a list of Hillary's 50-plus murder victims by her cardiologist. Because she wanted her heart looked at by a person capable of critical thinking, she changed doctors.

Next came Tim LaHaye's best-selling series of Left Behind novels, an elaborate "End Times" fantasy aimed at the same gullible demographic. My favorite scene featured plucky Christian survivalists fleeing Chicago during a nuclear attack and pausing along the highway to buy a fully-loaded Land Rover. With a mushroom cloud looming over Wrigley Field, the dealership was open for business. I also loved the battle at Armageddon where the Antichrist's tanks got stuck in mud made by the blood of righteously slaughtered sinners.

I'd bet a lot that Marjorie Taylor Green owns a boxed set. Righteous slaughter is what she's all about. She's fantasized publicly about executing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats.

Anyway, next came the Internet, President Obama, and a one-way trip to Crazytown for millions of gullible souls. Notice how you don't hear much about "The Rapture" anymore? The End Times no longer hold allure. They're all wearing MAGA hats now.

God brought them Donald J. Trump, and Trump has brought them QAnon. It's no longer bad enough for Hillary Clinton to smuggle cocaine and murder political rivals. Those are penny ante crimes. According to QAnon, she worships Satan, molests, tortures, and eats babies.

True, a recent NPR/Ipsos poll showed only 17 percent of Americans believe that prominent Democrats are devil-worshipping cannibals, but another 37 percent said they couldn't be sure either way.

Those are Marjorie Taylor Greene's people.