Category Archives: Culture

Fool Me Once…

Amnesia runs deep in the Democratic Party. Especially when it comes to compromise with Republicans. In 2009, Democrats watered down the Affordable Care Act to secure bi-partisan support. Yet not one GOP senator voted for the final bill. In 2015, they accepted Mitch McConnell’s justification for blocking consideration of Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court and took him at his word he would feel the same way if the president were from his own party. Can you say, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett?”

Which is why I do not share the enthusiasm of those who believe the compromise on gun legislation reached by the Murphy/Cronyn working group represents “progress.” I’ve not heard one Republican say, “This is a good start.” If not, what is it? Look at the trade-offs to secure 10 GOP votes. It looks more like “the end.”

Consider this one example. In lieu of raising the age from 18 to 21 for purchase of a semi-automatic assault weapon, the drafters agreed to “enhanced background checks” for purchasers under 21. This morning Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy who put the working group together explained how this provision might have stopped the shooter in Uvalde. When he walked into a gun store to purchase the two AR-15s, the dealer would have been required to contact local police to see if the shooter had ever had a run-in with law enforcement.

Senator, I know you mean well. You have been the leading advocate of gun safety laws since Sandy Hook. But this provision, WITHOUT background checks at gun shows and on-line sales, ensures weapons of war will continue to fall into the hands of young men who will use them on victims in such a brutal way the corpses are beyond recognition. What good is an ENHANCED background check if there are still pathways to acquire these weapons where the seller is not required to follow the same procedures as the owner of a licensed gun store.

You may not understand what is going on here, but I can assure you Mitch McConnell does. The proposed legislation has more loopholes than the tax code. Which means there WILL be another Sandy Hook, Parkland or Uvalde. And McConnell will come out of his shell and declare, “We restricted gun sales and that did not stop these travesties. That proves it was NEVER about access to guns. So let’s stop pretending it does. We have enough laws on the books. Let’s enforce those before we consider new ones.” [After which, McConnell holds a fund-raising conference call with the NRA and gun manufacturers and reminds them how he predicted passing the 2022 bill would shut down any possibility of REAL gun legislation.”]

This morning Joe Scarborough quoted Abraham Lincoln to justify this incremental approach to sensible gun legislation. “I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards.” Joe, if memory serves me correctly, Abraham Lincoln was the victim of gun violence. So was Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “The arc of history is long but it always bends toward justice.”

Sadly, these and other “slow walkers” took their last steps way before their time. And in the cases of Lincoln and King, we still have not realized their respective visions of a reunited America or racial equality. Instead, we should be listening to Albert Einstein. “To do the same thing over and over and expect a different result is the definition of insanity.” Approaching gun safety the same way America dealt with reconstruction and civil rights suggests, 100 years from now, we will be engaged in the same discussion we have following every mass shooting.

No, we will not have taken a step backwards. Instead, we will have been stopped dead in our tracks.

For what it’s worth.

The Good Old Days

Critics of the “Make America Great Again” movement believe it is a euphemism for taking the country back to the 1950s or earlier. You know, before women’s rights, civil rights and gay rights. But every idea, regardless of how insane or inane it appears to be, often contains a kernel of wisdom.

In one respect, I too would like to return to the days of my childhood. For the record, my minor status ended (i.e. 18th birthday) in January 1968. As I look back, there is one aspect of my experience I would again welcome without hesitation. The way disagreements and anger among schoolmates were resolved, i.e. fisticuffs.

Human nature, especially among hormonal teenagers, is a fact of life. There has always been a caste system in American schools. The jocks versus the nerds. The bullies and the bullied. Tempers flared. There were legitimate and imagined grievances. But NO ONE was ever killed or seriously maimed. There were scrapes and bruises, and on rare occasions, a broken arm or stitches.

The difference? The only available weapon was one’s fists. And short of the Marquis of Queensberry rules, there was an unwritten code. Seldom would one combatant ambush another. The more likely scenario was an agreement to “meet me after school.” Even when hostilities broke out spontaneously during recess or in the hallway, principals and teachers would step in and separate the fighters.

If the loser wanted revenge, he (as it was always males) did not ask his parents for an AR-15 for Christmas or use his life savings to purchase an arsenal of assault weapons. He might hang a speed bag from a rafter in the attic or basement. Or lift weights. His goal was not to kill his adversary, but to defend himself better the next time.

Though not a perfect social science experiment, school children of that era were the control group in any examination of violence in today’s institutions of learning. And there is one glaring, inescapable difference. The presence of firepower in the form of handguns, rifles and assault weapons.

So, please do not tell me guns are not the issue in the ever increasing number of dead bodies and wounded students and teachers in elementary and high schools across the nation. If the totals over the past 70 years had creeped up incrementally, I would concede maybe it had something to do with video games, increases in mental instability or the extent to which school buildings have been fortified. But the jump is from ZERO to HUNDREDS.

As Edward R. Morrow once said, “The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer.”


Speaking of the obvious, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy made an indisputable argument for raising the age to 21 for a individual to buy a semiautomatic assault weapon. He pointed out the shooter in Uvalde could buy an assault weapon at 18 while current federal law sets the minimum age for purchase of a handgun at 21.

The federal law did not include rifles and shotguns because the drafters considered those firearms to be legitimate sporting equipment used for target practice and hunting. Murphy added, “At that time, handguns were considered more dangerous than a long gun and more likely used in the commission of a crime.” Under that logic, Murphy challenged his Senate colleagues to argue a semiautomatic weapon was less dangerous than a handgun. And if they could not make that case, raising the minimum age to 21 in order to purchase such weapons of war was beyond dispute.

We’ll see!

For what it’s worth.

Deja Vu All Over Again

For me, one of the most enlightening moments in the aftermath of the tragic events in Buffalo on Saturday came when a number of journalists and pundits were chastised for referring to the shooter as a “lone gunman.” What were the critics of this reporting trying to tell us? While one person pulled the triggered, he had a host of accomplices who created the environment in which he believed his actions were acceptable, if not justified.

In the course of drafting the historical novel which has taken me away from this blog for the past several months, the research took me to Tallahatchie County, Mississippi in 1956. This was the time and location of the infamous torture and murder of Emmett Till, only one of several similar violent responses to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. What was it about northeast Mississippi that made it the epicenter of mid-20th century racial conflict?

David Halberstam's Mississippi apprenticeship - Columbia Journalism Review

One possible answer was provided by then aspiring journalist David J. Halberstam.  Seventeen years before this Pulitzer Prize winning author published The Best and the Brightest, Halberstam penned an article for The Reporter titled, “Tallahatchie County Acquits a Peckerwood.”  Following the acquittal of Elmer Kimbell after the murder of Clinton Melton, an African-American gas station attendant, he wrote:

A friend of mine divides the white population of Mississippi into two categories. The first and largest contains the good people of Mississippi, as they are affectionately called by editorial writers, politi­cians, and themselves. The other group is a smaller but in many ways more conspicuous faction called the peckerwoods.

The good people will generally agree that the peckerwoods are trou­blemakers, and indeed several good people have told me they joined the Citizens Councils because otherwise the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely.  But while the good peo­ple would not act with the rashness of and are not governed by the hatred of the peckerwood, they are reluctant to apply society’s normal remedies to the peckerwood. Thus it is the peckerwoods who kill Negroes and the good people who acquit the peckerwoods

David Halberstam, “Tallahatchie County Acquits a Peckerwood,” The Reporter, April 19, 1956.

Sound familiar? From his own manifesto, we know the Buffalo assailant is an anti-Semitic, white supremacist. But he is someone who Halberstam, if covering the weekend events, would also call a “neo-peckerwood.” But the phrase in Halberstam’s article that haunts me is, “…several good people have told me they joined the Citizens Councils (the organization created to fight school integration) because otherwise the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely. “

How is that any different from Mark Esper, John Bolton, Bill Barr, Kellyanne Conway and every other former member of the previous administration who claimed they were protecting us or “the peckerwoods would take over the situation entirely?” No, they did not protect us. They silently endorsed the behavior.

And how are Tucker Carlson, Elyse Stefanik and a host of MAGA-inspired candidates for office in 2022 distinguishable from the “good people” of Tallahatchie County who believed their silence in the face of bigotry and hate made them better than the peckerwoods. Stefanik, the third highest ranking Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives believes she is absolved of her complicity by Tweeting, “Our nation is heartbroken about the tragic news of horrific loss of life in Buffalo.” Just days after calling those across the aisle pedophiles and grifters who were promoting illegal immigration, a dog whistle for “replacement theory.”

Is there no one in the Republican leadership who will recognize how they contribute to the bile that has poisoned the body politic and the nation? Rather than banish the Liz Cheneys who dare call them out, is there not one member of the current party elite who will emulate Prince Escalus in Act V of Romeo and Juliet when he chastises the lovers’ parents for creating the conditions which led to a tragic end. “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate.” Instead of ending his screed with “All are punished,” a modern day Prince would declare, “All are peckerwoods.”

For what it’s worth.

Cavett Emptor

Blogger’s Note: I started drafting this post in mid-December while making my list of Festivus grievances. But, as often happens, the narrative did not come together and the partially completed entry was relegated to the “drafts” folder. However, my desire to share the content was energized by two recent events.

Last Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine included an essay by Anna Peele titled, “How do you host television in 2022?” Peele suggests the lack of civility in our every day political and cultural discourse demands a rethinking of the role of talk show hosts. She further claims several TV hosts including Seth Meyers, Ziwe, Padma Lakshmi, Andy Cohen and Keke Palmer have successfully made the transition. Peele focused on how each of these entertainers interacted with their guests.

What Peele failed to address is a more existential question, “When is a talk show not a talk show?”

Look up “The Tonight Show” on It is described as “an American late-night talk show that has aired on NBC since 1954.” The Johnny-Come-Lately imitations, e.g., “The Late Show with David Letterman” and then “…Stephen Colbert” (CBS) or “JimmyKimmell Live” (ABC), are also characterized as “talk shows.”

I guess that depends on your definition of “talk show.” If you had never watched any of the late night programs, you might look forward to a conversation between the host and one or more guests. Last night, the first guest on Colbert appeared at the 31 minute 03 second mark preceded by the opening monologue, commercial break, the regular bit “Meanwhile,” and a second commercial break. The same is true for the rest of the late-night array of “talk shows.” Jimmy Kimmel had a filmed parody of how anti-vaxxers might approach the Heimlich maneuver featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. And Seth Meyers regularly peppers the first half of his alloted 60 minutes with bits like “You’re Burnt,” “Day Drinking,” or “Back in My Day.”

Monday night’s edition of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” presented that moment of irony which visually captured the topic. Meyer’s studio band is unique in that it features a different guest drummer each week. Before introducing his first guest, Meyers welcomed this week’s percussionist Stevie Nistor, currently on tour with Sparks, who happened to be wearing a tee shirt with a caricature of Dick Cavett.

Some of us are old enough to remember Cavett’s ABC entry into late night television in 1968 following years as a staff writer for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. He had one more thing in common with his two mentors, a mid-American upbringing, having been born and raised in Gibbon, Nebraska. (NOTE: Paar grew up in Canton, Ohio; Carson in Corning, Iowa.)

But Cavett chose a different path from Carson or his ABC predecessor Joey Bishop. Knowing he could not compete with Carson, the anointed “king of late night TV,” Cavett took his cue from Paar. Although the show bore his name, the focus was always on the guests many with whom he established long-term relationships. They included celebrities from every walk of life including John and Yoko Ono (featured in the film Forrest Gump), Muhammed Ali, Noel Coward, Norman Mailer, then aspiring Massachusetts senator John Kerry, Katherine Hepburn and Groucho Marx. (NOTE: Marx gave Cavett the honor of introducing him at his last public performance, a one-man show An Evening with Groucho Marx at Carnegie Hall on December 16, 1972.)

Katharine Hepburn on <em>The Dick Cavett Show</em> in 1973. When the actress first met the talk-show host, she immediately asked him about “the man who died.” (Photo: Everett Collection)

Cavett would open his show with the obligatory monologue, but it was clear he was as anxious as the audience to get to his guests. Most shows dedicated the entire 90 minutes to one interview. And on rare cases after the show was cut back to one hour, longer conversations with the likes of Hepburn and Marx were broadcast on consecutive nights. Due to the personal relationships with many of his guests outside the confines of the TV cameras, the interviews more resembled a casual exchange between old friends rather than host digging for a sound bite and guest plugging his/her latest project.

In this sense he, rather than Johnny Carson, became the successor to Jack Paar. This was never more evident than occasions when the conversation turned to a mutual experience Cavett shared with a guest. Like Paar, he would introduce the topic, “Remember the time we…” But would stop in mid-sentence, then add, “No, you tell it much better.”

The answer to Anna Peele’s question, “How do you host television in 2022?” is obvious. The same way you did in 1968. The times were not that much different than today. The nation was divided. We were engaged in an unpopular war. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered. Chicago and Miami were the scenes of violent protests. In good times and bad, you do what Dick Cavett did. Focus on who we are, not on what we are doing at the moment.

For what it’s worth.

Turning Over an Old Leaf

While browsing the titles in the “New Releases” section of my local bookstore, I came upon The Newest Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin. Certainly, these most vocal critics of “cancel culture” would not exploit a Mark Twain classic to further their faux crusade against anything that makes conservative snowflakes uncomfortable. Was I ever wrong.

In Chapter 1, we find Tom and his brother Sid newly relocated in a foster home. The young lads have been removed from Aunt Polly’s care by Child Welfare Services. Rumors of her alternate lifestyle had been reported by neighbors to the local authorities.

“This is no place to raise children,” one told the judge at the custody hearing. “These boys need a mother and father.”

“Will you take them in?” asked the judge.

“You’re joking, of course. How do you expect me to find the time to organize the protest at the next school board meeting if I have to look after these hoodlums. We’d all be better off if these boys had never been born.” (If the book is ever adapted as a movie, this scene will fade to black while Alanis Morissette sings “Ironic.”)

But, that was just a preview of what was to come. In Chapter 2, Tom’s foster parents ask him if he wants to earn some spending money by whitewashing the school library. He agrees and is handed several cardboard boxes, a shovel and a list of names.

“What are these for?” Tom asks. “Won’t I need a bucket and brushes?”

“No, Tom. This is a different kind of whitewashing. Don’t think of it as work. It’s more like a scavenger hunt. Collect all the books by people on this list and put them in the cardboard boxes.”

“But what’s the shovel for?”

“You have to bury the boxes. Due to the drought from this hot spell and lack of rain, the city is prohibiting all controlled burns.”

“Wouldn’t this have been more like an ‘out of control’ burn?”

“Watch your mouth, boy. You’re lucky you have a place to live and someone who feeds you. And forget about being paid.”

I had read enough and put the book back on the shelf.


The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer was nominated for the national book award as the best metaphorical teaching tool to help students understand racial and gender injustice. DeSantis and Youngkin immediately called for the book to be removed from all public school and community libraries.

For what it’s worth.