Bart Simpson, the White House, and monsters made of clay

Life is full of endless complications in this cartoon world.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the real life Lisa Simpson should fall for a younger, politically ambitious Bill Clinton at Yale Law School. Why, with his talent for gab and kissing babies they could surely rule the world together.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they did.

His agenda, naturally, would come first, but that was as much a practical matter as anything, and no one was as practical as Lisa.

She’d keep her last name as long as she could, but she’d intuit the politics of taking a husband’s name. She would be the first woman president, surely, if God is just. Look at the sacrifices, the quiet indignities she bore: the law-school boys’ clubs, Arkansas first-lady’s social hours, the scrutiny of sure-fire real estate partnerships, her husband’s thirst for risky extramarital affairs, the right-wing conspiracies — so far beyond fair even when founded in bitter truths. It was all so beneath her.

Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they see? “I was a fucking rock, excuse my language.”

No one could be asked to absorb as much for this bright school-girl’s dream? And it was a good dream: first woman president.

Her whole life she was told to wait, that being tough and ambitious wasn’t ladylike. So her skin became leather. But did she not speak soft truths? Did she not fight for the underprivileged? Did she not raise enough for the party? She was a senator; she was Secretary of State; she waited her turn. Yes, she hid gossipy emails. Yes, she tried to pass the blame, but who didn’t? “They’ve made me a monster,” she thought. And she was right.

Brother Bart Simpson was a different cat altogether.

School was for suckers, he thought. The real key to power was celebrity. Celebrities could be stupid and still be rich.

And so he’d sell himself and whatever he could. Real estate was at hand, so he’d promise the biggest, the best buildings. But he’d take whatever chances he’d get. An interview? He’d do it. Say something that’ll bring the papers back, he thought. Power was about leverage, he’d learn. He didn’t have to be good at business; let the school suckers cover the work. He was a professional celebrity.

Friends are friends and enemies are trash, to Bart. It’s not personal. It’s a matter of status. “If they talk against you, bury them, dude.” Keep lawyers close. They’ll fix all the mistakes. “Just tell people what they want to hear.” And it worked. It always works.

“That’s Crooked Lisa’s problem. She’s lame. She cares too much what people think.”

And, still, he never got the respect he was sure he deserved.

Didn’t they know? Couldn’t they see? He’d built everything out of nothing. No one had hustled harder. He told the same lies as anyone else, but his were bolder. He had penthouses. He slept with the hottest women. “Billy Fucking Bush had been lucky to be in the same room. I am the mother fucking president.”

What could be more respectable than that? All the rich people he’d kissed up to — none of them had been presidents. He was better than all of them. Even smarter than Lisa.

Sure, Bart courted help from Russian mobsters to bury her. And he’d won. She’d never have that nerve. That’s the difference. “It’s called winning. No one cares how you won.”

But as great as he was, “They made me a monster,” he thought. And he was right.


Politics, Party, Push

Warning: not-so-brief-late-night-can’t-sleep political rant. Turn back now.

Trump is not a Republican. Yes, technically, he is, but make no mistake: this is a party-of-one guy. Remember when he threatened to run as an independent during the primary when it looked for a second like delegate games could break out.

For Trump, I believe, “Republican” was a vehicle to power. I think he would have run as Democrat if he thought that’d be easier. As it was, he exploited divisions within the GOP in the primary, and then, the great blue-red divide in the GE. All along, he held the media’s attention spouting bold lies and insults, nurtured the loyalty of his base by telling them what they wanted to hear and effectively demonized an already unpopular opponent. For all his faults, his political instincts were whip sharp. It turns out the best defense IS a good offense. And if you leverage from comrades a late poop push on Facebook, you don’t need great political canvassing or an endorsement from Jeb.

Now in power, what has he done? For sure, he has thrown his supporters some atta-boys — tax cuts, a conservative SC justice, a moratorium on regulation — but mostly, those are things that benefit any rich business man. He has also opposed states’ rights (see marijuana legalization), threatened gun seizures (yes, in an unfiltered moment after Parkland) pushed tariffs (so much for free trade), undermined the first amendment (FAKE NEWS!) and slandered our nation’s top law enforcement officials (Good Witch Hunting).

Lucky for us, Fox News is hip to this charade with its fair-and-balanced coverage. 🙄🤢 #godhelpus

A House Divided

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” –Mark 12:25

We’ve been here before.

Abraham Lincoln referenced the book of Mark’s house-divided passage in a famous speech at the Illinois State Capital in 1858 — two years before he was elected president.

Seen rightly as an enemy to the future of slavery, Lincoln’s election triggered the secession of the South, the nation’s deadliest conflict via the Civil War, and, with time, a new Union stitched together by war-weary countrymen.

Lincoln stands on the right side of history having fought for unification.

While the future is uncertain, the present is clear: we are divided again. This time it’s more than north v. south, though geographic divisions exist. It’s Red v. Blue; it’s right v. left. And foreign interests and greed are widening the gap with propaganda that vilifies the other side.

I’m not writing to promote or discredit any ideology. Politics are for another day. I’m here with a mirror, and I’ve stepped back. I want to show you the big picture emerging for all to see.

Our divisions threaten our house. And I feel we need to acknowledge the forces that are pulling us apart if we are to hold this thing together. We are in 1858 again. The “South” has not yet gone rogue, but we are ripping at the seams sewn by deep sacrifice.

Consider this:

1. Russians interfered with the 2016 election.

The intelligence community is not in doubt about this. Fact-checkers Politifact have crowned President Trump’s self-centered claims that Russians did not meddle with the election the 2017 Lie of the Year. 

2. The president, under investigation for collusion with the Russians, is publicly undermining our free press, as well as law enforcement tasked with protecting the nation from threats foreign and domestic.

His cries on Twitter of “fake news” and threats to deny licensing to unfavorable broadcasters, challenge our shared and beloved first amendment rights.

His often quizzical social media outbursts have questioned the legitimacy of our judicial branch, the FBI, the Department of Justice and our national intelligence. It’s “a witch hunt,” he says openly.

Not only is our president standing against the American system of checks and balances, he is securing Republican support in Congress and beyond to do the same.

A major American news organization, Fox News, a clear promoter and defender of right/red-state ideology (yes, perfectly within their first amendment rights) has recently questioned whether the investigation into the president’s campaign amounts to a “coup.”

3. In taking a defensive posture to clear Russian election interference, our president almost certainly ensures that future elections won’t be adequately protected from foreign interests.

Last year, Russians worked against the Democratic candidate for president, but nothing prevents them or other countries or groups from working against Republicans in the future.

This is not a partisan issue.

Surely, to all Republicans — ironically, the party of Lincoln — the threat would be crystal clear if Trump was a Democrat.

True patriots, whatever their party, know the president is not above our laws.

A Republican Congress agreed to allow special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia to work against his political rival. That on-going investigation has already produced guilty pleas among high-level campaign staff.

We need to lean on the judicial branch now, not cut it off. Supporting fair elections and due process is the most American thing we can do.

I implore those good forces on the right to see our collective situation with eyes wide open. We must not follow the president and his blind defenders down this course. Like the secessionists before him, he is shaking the foundations of our house.

Like the South, rising again for our age, he is on the wrong side of history.

2 Dinosaurs: a bedtime story

2 dinosaurs died long ago.

1 was humble, and meek with a stretchy neck he’d show off to nervous birds while eating leafy roofs.

1 was bold, and stealth. A hunter. He’d never show his strength to anyone unless it was too late for them.

The leafeater saw the world as a great mother. Trees of every size and shape filled endless dreams. Without thorns of bark and buzzy bugs in his eyes, the leafeater had only friends, and sun, and creeks, and a lust for leaves in his face, and naked gratitude. The leafeater knew only how to be a boy. He felt everything he lived. He didn’t believe in dying.

The lion saw the same world as a buffet. Nothing fancy or special. Just enough to live. Everything is bought with blood. The strong of his type are the coldest. They hide in plain sight. They strike alone and finish! There are liabilities and threats. He had stinging teeth and claws like rocks.

They both died long ago

When a fireball exploded

And sent a shockwave across the forest.

And set fire to the skies.

The leaves bit back, giving birth to smoke and ash, determined to rest on the ground or blow free in the red, gray wind.

The victims, like the leafeater, went hungry.  They cried, and cringed and got old fast with fists in their stomachs.

First, it was a windfall for the lion. New meat. Then, the meals dried up. He felt nothing. The dinosaur died hunting in search of prey he’d never find.

The lion outlived the leafeater. But they both died in the end. And Life is not a contest to the dead.

They both only served the future. And their dreams lie in mud. All hearts are meant to be broken; their secrets food to the soil, who raised us all here alive now, children.

The Bar Formerly Known As…

“Things change, and that’s how they become our own.” This was my first thought coming out of a dream, and I wanted to write it down before I forgot. 

I was standing, in the dream, in a pizza place where I’d worked. And the full kitchen had been remodeled. It was laid out in a square before, and now it was L-shaped and more closed in. It was a whole different vibe. I think I was sad about that, but I hadn’t said anything to anyone. Then, the above mentioned thought came to me clear and whole. A group of younger kids was there, early 20s I’d guess, and it was a bar. I hadn’t really been interacting with my environment, but at one point a song played and everyone knew it, so everyone sang it. I got caught up myself and was singing too. This was their bar. It was no longer my workplace. 

And that’s how life goes. We get Mr. Gatti’s on Battlefield or LaMar’s on Campbell or Parkview laid out like a pitchfork until we don’t anymore. Only so many people in the world know those places like I do, and some of them are already gone. 

I’ve often wondered how people from 200 years ago or 1,000 or 5,000 years ago would see our world. The answer is they wouldn’t recognize it. They’d say: “there used to be a barn here, or a creek bed, or a path with trees and a hill,” as they stood next to a Bed, Bath & Beyond. Change may be the hardest thing to accept, but it’s what makes our world unique. And the world can’t be about us for long. For we are fleeting. 

In the parking lot of a Bed, Bath & Beyond in Sunset Hills, Mo.

The truest words I think I’ve heard in my life came from an artist who has now passed: “Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” Someday, I’ll tell my grandkids about him and it’ll get confusing fast. “He had one stage name, and then he was a symbol before he took the old one back.” And they’ll tell their parents, “grandpa’s stories are crazy.” And their parents will smile and nod. 🙂

Modern Tips for Consuming News Media 

The liberal media ain’t just liberal anymore. I may be stating the obvious to some, but seeing and feeling how divided our country is in the wake of #charlottesville, it occurs to me — a former business reporter from Springfield, Mo. — this could be a great time to offer some quick and valuable, if not obvious, tips for consuming today’s media. If you’re mad and you know it, the media might be partially to blame. Curse you, Fake News! 

1. Every publication has a niche and works to serve its audience. NYTimes serves the interests of different readers/advertisers than FoxNews or the Springfield News-Leader, generally speaking. Think of media like restaurants. Yes, McDonald’s and Black Sheep (high-end local) both have hamburgers on the menu, but their goals, approach and ingredients are wholly different. 

2. The vast majority of news organizations are working to establish facts that serve their audience — often by consistently trying to meet their expectations. FoxNews, for example, has, and I assume will, report accurate facts in news segments (when not offering commentary), but it’s not looking to report on a study funded by a left-leaning nonprofit that finds people in countries with universal health care spend half what the average U.S. citizen pays. No, but it may report extensively on a conservative-backed study that shows there is abuse within the Welfare system. Both would be news, but Fox (like CNN or MSNBC or anyone) wants to be a consistent brand distinguishable from other news outlets. 

3. I’ve said before that media has a money bias, and it’s true (they are all pushing stories they think will get the most attention to help generate the most revenue), but it may be more accurate to say media has a conflict bias. Conflict is just more interesting. “Peeps got along today just fine” is not a headline anyone cares about. There is an old saying, “if it bleeds, it leads.” It’s unfortunate, but often news is the most disturbing thing happening right now. 

4. If you’re a Democrat and you just can’t understand how or why anyone would support our president, it may be a good time to check out conservative-leaning news orgs like National Review or Red State. Or if you’re a Republican and can’t understand why liberals are so hell bent on ruining our country, it might be time to pick up The Atlantic or The New Yorker. 

If you’re angry and don’t know why, the conflict-bias you’re used to may be to blame. Solution: hide under the covers and plug your ears and turn off your smartphone. Or, just get your news from a various sources — particularly if it’s a story you care about — and apply reason to sort fact from audience development. The latter option is much harder, but satisfying. 

Under the Big Tent

The morning comes and pulls clouds back to their stations, manning invisible posts, then marching forward. Ever marching.

Worms wiggle out of cool, wet earth, brushed by itchy grass towers towards a sloping, firm concrete valley. A waiting robin beast has breakfast on a bumpy, sprawling plate. The carnage. The wormanity.

A man walks with a song from a dream in his steps. He wonders about death. He prepares for work. A runner comes his way and turns around. Neither of them wanted to talk. The man admires power lines. 

Sun rays spring from a clown car. The audience applauds on cue as the photons work the crowd in waves. Lions, tigers and bears, oh my. In cages. With collars. Preparing to dance for food.