Philip Martin’s January 1 Column

January 1, 2017

Welcome to the everlasting now
By Philip Martin

This article was published in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 1/1/17 at 1:50 a.m.

It’s an arbitrary line we’ve just crossed, from one year to the next. The wind doesn’t know it’s a new year. Calendars are artificial as hash marks on AstroTurf, just another way human beings keep track. Another way we can pretend our rituals and mythologies matter, that the stack we’ve piled up that’s maybe bigger than our neighbors’ means something. But it’s just an odometer; it rolls over and sometimes the numbers line up in ways we find interesting or significant.

I get why some people have no interest in participating. What use will all our trophies be in the cool and coming night?

But I also get why some of us are waking up with aching heads this morning. I try to watch myself these days, but I might even be one of those sorehead romantics. Engagement, at least for now, seems more interesting than the alternative. I understand that it’s all just dragon chasing, but the desperation with which we poor humans can play is touching; the wanting is always more important than the getting.

I realize that’s a dangerous sentiment, that it wanders through the neighborhood of Gordon Gekko and Ayn Rand. But I don’t think greed is good, or that the mindless pursuit of self-interest is somehow noble or natural. I only think a lot of people like to hear things like that because it provides them with cover for doing what they want to do, for leveraging every small advantage they can find. I think it’s all right to give a sucker an even break, to share your cookie with the dirty kid in the Toughskins dungarees. And I don’t worry if that makes me a Christian or a Communist because I know I’m doing it for my own selfish reasons, so I might sleep a little better.

At this point waking up in paradise would be a nice lagniappe.

Not that I have to worry too much about that; I pass up opportunities to be a better person all the time. There are homeless folks I don’t give money to, there are stricken and sad people to whom I don’t provide comforting words. When I donate something, I ask for a receipt. Mostly I try not to make anything worse for anyone if I can help it.

Anyway, it’s no longer the year in which David Bowie and Carrie Fisher and millions of other people I never met died; it’s a fresh sheet of paper in the typewriter. And as such it’s terrifying. For like they say, the future is unwritten, but look at all the hands grasping pens, looking to scrawl their names big in the book. That sort of ambition ought to scare those of us cognizant of history and the limitations of our arts and sciences, but it’s the way the world has always worked. We’ve never been led by our wisest or most humane, we’ve mostly been led by charismatic monomaniacs who had the foresight to be born in fortunate circumstances.

Some of them we make heroes because there is a part of us that requires heroes, just as we require an apparently ordered universe. (Just as we require a repeating calendar, and the very concept of time. We need ideas that we can sink into our minds to tether us to the reality we’ve agreed to observe.) We imbue the people who capture the attention of the cameras and the sycophants with magic. We imagine that they might know things we don’t–that we can’t–and that they might, by force of personality or magic, deliver us into a world that’s different from the one we’ve always known.

Yet while our gimmicks and toys have become more elaborate and efficient, human nature is the gravity that drags us back into the mire. We can expect to live longer than people used to, to hang around the bar for a few more auld lang synes than our great-grandparents did. But these imagined gains are undercut by the fact we can kill each other deader now, at a faster rate, from a greater distance.

We’ve traded our libraries for a cybernetic consciousness that’s proving no more reliable or disciplined than our individual brains. We’ve traded our books for touchscreens, our rituals for affection for apps. You can argue the advantages of the old over the new or vice-versa; you can be nostalgic for the glowing warm distortion of the analog or unsentimental about the inevitable triumph of the digital, it’s all part of the same drive for diversion.

Whatever the stakes, we will find ways of preoccupying and forgetting ourselves. That’s why some people care so much for football. Why some people care so much for politics. It’s not because they really think the outcomes of the contests will have a major effect on their lives, but because they know they won’t. Most people are too concerned with those problems that are particular and immediate to them–they worry about their jobs, their kids, their marriages, whether they’ll be able to ever retire–to put much effort into finding out about and analyzing arcane policy proposals. Mostly we just vote for people we think we’d like were we to meet them. Or for people we think we’d like to be.

It’s really that simple. You like the way someone looks, you feel assured by their persona, you’ll find a way to justify your feelings, even if you’re not stirred enough to actually vote for them. That’s why candidates are sold like other products. An appeal to the buyer’s aspiration beats an appeal to reason, but the most effective method is to activate one’s fear.

And as important as newspapers and other newsgathering organizations pretend it is, it isn’t as important as one’s private life. People like to use high-minded words like “liberty” and “freedom” but the truth is most of us would trade those in for a guaranteed level of personal and economic security. There are no guarantees. No one can keep you safe. No one can ensure your prosperity in a complex world where things so erratic as the phobias and foibles of men influence the market.

All we can do is stay alert–“woke,” as the kids say–and understand that the future belongs to those who seize it. And that, in the long run, there is no long run. It’s the moment, the everlasting now, that matters.

Editorial on 01/01/2017

Dave Barry’s Year In Review (2016)

December 30, 2016

December 30, 2016 10:00 AM

Dave Barry’s Year in Review: 2016 — What the … ?

The United States of Powerball

If the record-breaking Powerball jackpot has you dreaming of how you would spend the winnings — you are not alone. But where you live plays a big role in how much of the prize you would get to keep. BY: Nicole L. Cvetnic and Sarah Whitmire / McClatchy

North Korea successfully tests a hydrogen bomb, although this achievement is tarnished somewhat by the fact that the explosion causes the death, by startling, of the isolated nation’s lone remaining chicken.

In what critics cite as yet another example of declining U.S. prestige, Iran seizes two U.S. naval vessels and captures 10 crew members; what makes the incident particularly embarrassing is that these vessels were docked in Cleveland. The captured sailors are released, but only after Secretary of State John Kerry assures the Iranian government that he will not deploy James Taylor.

The Powerball jackpot reaches a record $1.6 billion, with an estimated 45 percent of the tickets being purchased by the city of Detroit using money budgeted for “infrastructure.”

Speaking of huge amounts of money being wasted, in …


… the presidential primary season takes center stage. On the Republican side, the big issue — as you would expect, given the stakes in this election — is Donald Trump’s hand size and whether it correlates with the size of his portfolio, which he claims is huge, although he is reluctant to show it to the non-supermodel public. The hand-size issue is raised by Marco Rubio, who scores in the early polls, then fades as voters realize that he is still in the early stages of puberty. Trump’s strongest rival is Ted Cruz, a veteran debater so knowledgeable and confident that Mahatma Gandhi would want to punch him in the face. Meanwhile Jeb Bush, who was considered the early favorite, fails to gain traction with the voters despite having by far the most comprehensive set of policy initiativezzz

Sorry! We nodded off thinking about Jeb, as did the voters.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is widely presumed to be the front-runner based on being a historic woman with a lengthy resume of service to the nation who, with her husband Bill, has serviced the nation for decades to the tune of several hundred million dollars. She is declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses via a controversial and confusing process that, in some precincts, involves dodgeball. But Clinton faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, a feisty 217-year-old Vermont senator with a message of socialism, but the good kind of socialism where everybody gets a lot of free stuff, not the kind where starving people fight over who gets the lone remaining beet at the co-op. Sanders wins the New Hampshire Democratic primary, followed — in what some observers see as a troubling sign — by Vladimir Putin.

Dave Barry goes searching for protesters on the campaign trail

Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry goes in search of protesters in New Hampshire – the “live free or die” state – and ends up in a gaggle of passionate Ted Cruz fans.

Natalie Fertig McClatchy

In other February news:

▪ A lengthy standoff at a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon finally comes to an end when anti-government militants, after protracted negotiations, are eaten by the federal wildlife.

▪ Following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the nation’s political leaders observe a period of mourning and reflection lasting three billionths of a second, then commence the important bipartisan work of not making any progress whatsoever on a replacement.

▪ The troubled Chipotle chain temporarily closes all of its restaurants after several customers are attacked by what health authorities describe as “E. coli bacteria the size of adult pythons.”

▪ The Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl, thanks in part to a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on the Carolina Panther defense for stealing Peyton Manning’s walker.

Speaking of unsportsmanlike, in …


… the Republican presidential race grows increasingly nasty, spiraling downward in tone to the point where Ted Cruz makes the following statement, which we swear we are not making up: “Donald Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him.” This sounds as though Cruz is saying that he would copulate with a rat, as long as the rat was not Donald Trump. Presumably that is not what Cruz meant, but nobody really wants to know what he did mean. Meanwhile Ben Carson announces, in his extremely low-key and soft-spoken manner, that he is going to suspend his campaign. Or visit Spain. Or possibly rob a train. There is no way to be certain.

From Florida’s Python Challenge to the candidates most likely to get us into World War III, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen lobbed a few choice zingers about the 2016 presidential campaign at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables.

Matias Ocner

On the Democratic side, Clinton and Sanders are also in a tight and testy battle, although Clinton slowly gains the upper hand thanks to the Democratic Party’s controversial formula for allocating “superdelegates,” which is as follows:

▪ 57 percent go to Clinton.

▪ The remaining 43 percent also go to Clinton.

Responding to charges from the Sanders camp that the Democratic National Committee is tipping the scales in Clinton’s favor, chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz states that “the DNC is scrupulously neutral in the contest between Secretary Clinton and the senile Commie fart.”

In other political news, President Barack Obama nominates Merrick Garland to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Republican leaders are quick to note that, while Garland appears to be qualified, his name is an anagram for “Rancid Lark Germ.”

But by far the most controversial political issue of the month — which nobody thought about before, yet which all of a sudden is the defining civil rights struggle of the 21st century — is the question of who can pee where in North Carolina.

In foreign affairs, Obama pays a historic visit to Cuba but is forced to leave after three days when he discovers that there is only one golf course. A historic baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team has to be called off in the fourth inning because all but four of the Cuban players have switched sides.

Speaking of historic, in …


… England observes the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates the occasion by wearing a large hat and smiling grimly at horses.

Meanwhile world tension mounts when satellite imagery reveals that North Korea has positioned an 18-story plastic bottle containing an estimated 40 million liters of Diet Coke on the border with South Korea, and has somehow obtained what one military analyst describes as “Mentos mints the size of barns.” North Korea insists that the project is “strictly defensive,” but the United Nations Security Council, responding with its toughest sanctions yet against the rogue nation, votes to unfriend Kim Jong-un on Facebook.

In another alarming international development, Russian fighter jets, continuing a pattern of increasingly provocative behavior toward the U.S., attack the control tower at La Guardia airport. After assessing the damage, airport authorities announce that departing flights will be delayed an average of four months, nearly twice as long as usual. Secretary of State Kerry calls the act “a deliberate provocation” and, in his strongest response to date, warns that the U.S. is considering “a harshly worded memorandum.”

In U.S. presidential politics, Ted Cruz, making a last-ditch effort to stop the Trump juggernaut, announces that his choice for running mate is — prepare for a game-changing jolt of high-voltage excitement — Carly Fiorina. This would be the same Carly Fiorina who dropped out after the New Hampshire primary because she got approximately six votes. On the plus side, Cruz manages to make this announcement without mentioning rats.

In other political news, Hillary Clinton is troubled by a persistent cough that leaves her unable to speak at some campaign stops, forcing her to express her commitment to working families by shattering a porcelain figurine of a Wall Street banker with a hammer. A Trump spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that the Trump campaign “will not speculate on Mrs. Clinton’s health,” adding that “she obviously has some terrible disease.”

Speaking of bad news, in …


… tragedy strikes the Cincinnati Zoo when zoo authorities, fearing for the life of a 3-year-old who has climbed into the gorilla enclosure, are forced to shoot and kill a gorilla named Harambe, who instantly becomes way more revered on the internet than Mother Teresa.

In other domestic news, passengers at major U.S. airports complain that they are missing flights because security lines are so long.

Q. How long are they?

A. One of them contains a Wright brother.

Asked for an explanation, a spokesperson for the federal Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening passengers, blames the airline industry, pointing out that “If the airlines didn’t keep selling tickets, we wouldn’t have all these people showing up at airports trying to catch flights.” The spokesperson suggests that people planning to travel by air during busy times should consider other options, such as suicide.

In a medical breakthrough, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital announce that they have performed the first successful penis transplant in the United States. The patient’s name — we are not making this item up — is “Manning.”

Abroad, satellite surveillance reveals that North Korea has constructed what military analysts describe as “an extremely large slingshot” as well as a latex balloon believed to be large enough to hold a quantity of water equivalent to Lake Tahoe. The North Korean government insists that these items are intended for “medical research.”

In sports, suspicions of doping by Russian Olympic athletes resurface after little-known sprinter Vladimir Raspatovsky, who has never previously posted a world-record time, wins the Kentucky Derby.

Speaking of winners, in …


… it becomes evident that, barring some highly unlikely political development, the next president of the United States will be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the nation is in the grip of a worsening heroin epidemic. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Speaking of coincidences: Bill Clinton happens to find himself in the same airport as U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and — as any two people would do if one of them was the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer and the other was married to the subject of a federal investigation — they meet privately aboard Lynch’s Justice Department jet. When word of the meeting leaks out, Lynch assures the press that she and Bill did not discuss the FBI investigation into Hillary’s email, adding, “nor did we inhale.” For her part, Hillary continues to insist that she never emailed anything classified, and even if she did she actually didn’t, besides which so did a lot of other people such as Colin Powell and Harry Truman, and this so-called “scandal” is ancient history from literally years ago that just makes a person sigh and roll her eyes because it is preventing her from fighting for working families while at the same time being a historic woman.

Also for the sake of balance we should note that throughout June, Donald Trump continues to emit a steady stream of truly idiotic statements.

In sports, Cleveland — in a historic upset — actually wins something.

The day Cassius Clay and The Beatles shared the ring

On February 18, 1964, The Beatles were in Miami Beach to perform on the Ed Sullivan show and were taken to the training camp of boxer Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali.

Charles Trainor

But the big sports story for June, and the year, is the death of Muhammad Ali, a person so remarkable that even the tidal wave of phony saccharine media-manufactured grief-hype that engulfs modern celebrity deaths cannot detract from the simple truth that he really was as great as he said he was.

Internationally, the top story is “Brexit” — the decision by voters in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. This comes as a big surprise to professional pollsters, who had confidently predicted the opposite result; they enjoy a hearty laugh, then head across the Atlantic to apply their talents to the forthcoming American presidential election.

Meanwhile British politics is plunged into chaos, the result being that in …


… Prime Minister David Cameron and other top officials resign, new people take office, and the UK essentially has a new government, ready to move on. This entire process takes about two weeks, or less time than it takes the major American political parties to agree on the seating arrangements for a “town hall debate.”

In U.S. politics, the Republicans gather in Cleveland to nominate Trump, although many top party officials are unable to attend because of an urgent compelling need to not be there. Nevertheless Trump receives enthusiastic prime-time endorsements from former celebrity Scott Baio, several dozen Trump children and current Trump wife Melania, who enthralls delegates with a well-received speech in which she tells her heartwarming story of growing up as an African-American woman in Chicago. The dramatic highlight comes on the final night, when Trump, in his acceptance speech, brings the delegates cheering to their feet with his emotional challenge to “grab the future by the p—y.”

On the Democratic side, the month gets off to a rocky start when FBI Director James Comey, announcing the results of the bureau’s investigation, reveals that when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, her official emails, some including classified material, were basically as secure from prying eyes as a neon beer sign. Nevertheless, Comey says he is recommending that no criminal charges be brought against Clinton, because, quote, “I don’t want to die.”

With that legal hurdle cleared, relieved Democrats gather in Philadelphia for their convention, which opens — in a bid to placate Sanders’ delegates — with the ceremonial caning of Debbie Wasserman Schultz. This is followed by several hundred speeches praising Hillary Clinton for the many accomplishments she has achieved, as well as the achievements she has accomplished, while at the same time being, historically, a woman. In her acceptance speech, Clinton calls on Americans “to join with me in building a better world for us and for our children,” adding, “or I will crush you like an insect.”

In a media shakeup, Roger Ailes resigns as chairman of Fox News following allegations that his name can be rearranged to spell “I ogle rears.”

As the month ends, skydiver Luke Aikins sets a world record by jumping out of a plane 25,000 feet over California without a parachute or wing suit. He manages to land safely in a net despite the fact that on the way down — in what John Kerry calls “a deliberate provocation” — he is strafed by Russian fighter jets.

Speaking of provocations, in …


… Donald Trump goes to Mexico, having been informed by his team of foreign-policy advisers that this is where Mexicans come from. He meets with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and although he does not try to persuade Peña Nieto that Mexico should pay for the huge imaginary wall that he has promised to build, Trump does demonstrate his legendary prowess as a hard-nosed businessman by negotiating what he describes as “a fantastic price” on a souvenir sombrero that he claims is “easily 4 feet in diameter.”

Meanwhile, newly released State Department emails cause some people to suggest that the reason a variety of dodgy foreign businesspeople and nations gave millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state was that they expected — get a load of THIS wacky right-wing conspiracy theory! — to receive special access to or favors from the U.S. government. Hillary has no choice but to roll her eyes and laugh in a violently unnatural manner at this latest attempt to use these discredited smear tactics to prevent her, a historic and lifelong woman, from fighting for working families as well as working for fighting families.

Dave Barry discovers something other than fish in the ocean off Rio

Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry roams the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro to discover (and make sense of) all the sights and sounds surrounding the 2016 Olympic Games.

Nicole L. Cvetnic and David Eulitt / McClatchy

Abroad, the summer Olympic games open in Brazil amid dire warnings about Zika, riots, muggers, muggers with Zika and windsurfers being attacked by predatory oceangoing feces. But the games for the most part go smoothly, the biggest glitch being when one of the diving pools mysteriously turns a dark, murky green. The mystery is finally solved when the pool is drained, revealing a Russian nuclear submarine, which Russia insists is in international waters.

In the athletic competition, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt becomes the first athlete ever to win the men’s 100 meter final wearing flip-flops. But the U.S. team dominates the games, with the most memorable performance coming from a team of athletes led by swimmer and rocket scientist Ryan Lochte competing in the Four-Man Gas Station Wall Pee.

Elsewhere in sports, the opening of the National Football League season provides a much-needed diversion to Americans who are sick of being bitterly divided over politics and welcome the opportunity to be bitterly divided over how players respond to the National Anthem.

Speaking of bitter, in …


Clinton and Trump square off in the first presidential debate, which leads to a national conversation about an issue of vital concern to all Americans, namely the alleged weight gain of Alicia Machado, Miss Universe 1996. This topic is raised by Clinton in an obvious attempt to bait Trump into wasting valuable campaign time talking about something that cannot possibly benefit him, so naturally Trump, who by his own admission has an extremely high IQ, latches onto it like a barnacle onto the Titanic. He focuses on the former Miss Venezuela with laser-like intensity for the better part of a week before getting back to his previous campaign strategy of engaging in bitterly personal Twitter feuds, often with other Republicans.

But it is also not a totally great month for Clinton, who appears to collapse while being helped into a van after hastily leaving a 9/11 memorial ceremony. Her campaign, responding with the transparency, openness and candor for which it is famous, initially downplays the incident, saying that Clinton felt “overheated.” Ninety minutes later she appears outside her daughter’s apartment building and tells reporters “I’m feeling great.” But later that afternoon her physician releases a statement saying that two days earlier, Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia. This leads to renewed speculation about Clinton’s health, which is quickly quelled by a vast army of Clinton campaign officials, surrogates, allies, lackeys, henchpersons and media flunkies, all heavily armed with talking points and declaring, in unison, that she has no undeclared health problems and is going to power through this minor, pesky, so-called “pneumonia” which is old news and will not distract her from being a historic person of gender with a lifelong commitment to fighting for working etc.

Speaking of overheating, Samsung announces a recall of all Galaxy Note 7 phones after an attempt to re-brand them as “smart charcoal lighters” meets with consumer resistance. Adding to Samsung’s woes are reports that some of its top-loading washers have exploded, although the company insists that the machines are “perfectly safe when operated using the delicate cycle,” provided that “there are no humans nearby.”

In other technology news, Apple announces the release of the iPhone 7, which is basically the iPhone 6 with the added convenience of not having a headphone jack. The marketing slogan is “At Least It Doesn’t Burst Into Flames.”

In entertainment news, “Game of Thrones” once again wins the coveted Emmy award for Drama Series With The Most Naked People.

But for sheer drama, no TV show can compare with what happens to the American political system in …


… when the U.S. presidential election, until now a cross between farce and soap opera, mutates into a full-on horror show.

The early part of the month goes badly for Trump with the release of a 2005 video in which he talks about kissing and groping women, which according to him he can get away with because he’s a star who uses Tic Tacs. Trump quickly apologizes for the video, noting that (a) it was recorded long ago when he was just 59 years old; (b) his remarks were “locker room banter” such as you would hear in any locker room in America occupied by morally deficient billionaire pigs; (c) Bill Clinton did way worse things; and (d) WHAT ABOUT BENGHAZI?

But the story does not go away. Over the next week Trump is accused of improper groping by enough women to form a professional softball league. Trump responds to these allegations with a five-pronged defense:

Prong One: These women are lying.

Prong Two: ALL of them. They are LIARS.

Prong Three: They are frankly not attractive enough to be groped by a star of his magnitude.

Prong Four: The election is rigged!


Meanwhile the Clinton campaign is dealing with a steady stream of WikiLeaks emails suggesting that the Clinton Foundation is dedicated to humanitarian relief in the same sense that the Soprano family was dedicated to waste management. But this kind of scandal is ho-hum stuff for the Clinton campaign, whose campaign slogan has slowly morphed from “Stronger Together” into “At Least She’s Predictably Corrupt.” As the month wears on and Trump continues to flail away unconvincingly at his alleged groping victims, it appears more and more likely that Clinton has established herself, with just enough voters, as the least-loathsome choice in this hideous, issues-free nightmare of an election.

And then, just when we thought it could not get any weirder or any worse, we are hit with the mother of all October surprises in the form of the incurable genital wart on the body politic known as Anthony Weiner. While probing Weiner’s laptop (Har!) for evidence of alleged sexting with an underaged girl, the FBI reportedly discovers thousands of emails that were sent from or to Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which apparently had a higher internet profile than Taylor Swift. FBI director James Comey sends a letter informing Congress that the FBI is taking another look at the email issue. In a display of the intellectual integrity that has made our political class so respected by ordinary citizens, all the Democrats and allied pundits who praised Comey in July as a courageous public servant instantly swap positions with all the Republicans and allied pundits who said he was a cowardly hack. This new development sends the political world into Full Freakout Mode, with cable-TV political analysts forced to change their underwear on an hourly basis. Meanwhile millions of critical swing voters switch from “undecided” to “suicidal.”

In non-campaign-related October news:

▪ A government report concludes that the Affordable Care Act (Motto: “If You Like Your Doctor, Maybe You’ll Like Your New Doctor”) is going to cost many people a lot more, while continuing to provide the same range of customizable consumer options as a parking meter.

▪ In a chilling reminder of the nation’s technological vulnerability, a series of cyberattacks disrupts popular internet sites such as Twitter and Netflix, forcing millions of Americans to make eye contact with each other.

▪ In yet another blow to Samsung, the Federal Aviation Administration announces that it will not permit commercial aircraft to fly over states known to contain Galaxy Note 7s.

▪ In the arts, Bob Dylan refuses to answer his doorbell, forcing members of the Swedish Academy to leave the Nobel Prize for literature in his mailbox.

The month ends on an upbeat note as Americans celebrate Halloween, a welcome escape from the relentless drumbeat of bad news, as evidenced by this headline which we swear we are not making up: “Some Florida Parents Plan To Arm Themselves While Going Trick-Or-Treating Over Clown Concerns.”

Speaking of treats, in …


… the Chicago Cubs win the World Series. Finally! Yay! What a fun month! OK, that’s our summary of November. Now it’s time to move along to the events of …


No, that would be wrong. This is supposed to be a review of the whole year, warts and all, and we have to face reality. So let’s all take a deep breath, compose ourselves and go back to …


… which begins with yet another letter to congressional leaders from FBI Director Comey, who lately has generated more correspondence than Publishers Clearing House. This time he says, concerning the newly discovered emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop: never mind. This forces Republicans and Democrats to again swap positions on whether Comey is a courageous patriot or total scum. For a brief period members of Congress are so confused about who stands where that they are in real danger of accidentally working together and accomplishing something. Fortunately before this happens the two sides are able to sort things out and resume being bitterly deadlocked.

As Election Day approaches, a consensus forms among the experts in the media/political complex, based on a vast array of demographic and scientific polling data evaluated with sophisticated analytical tools. These experts, who have made lucrative careers out of going on TV and explaining America to Americans, overwhelmingly agree that Hillary Clinton will win, possibly in a landslide, and this could very well mean the end of the Republican Party. The Explainers are very sure of this, nodding in unison while smiling in bemusement at the pathetic delusions of the Trump people.

Unfortunately, it turns out that a large sector of the American public has not been brought up to speed on all this expert analysis. And so it comes to pass that the unthinkable happens, in the form of …


No, dammit! We have to do this! What happens in …


… is that Donald Trump is elected president of the United States, unless this turns out to be one of those really vivid dreams, like the one where you’re at the dentist but you’re naked and your dentist is Bette Midler and spiders keep coming out of your mouth.

Trump’s victory stuns the nation. Not since the darkest days of the Civil War have so many Americans unfriended each other on Facebook. Some even take the extreme step of writing “open letters.” Angry, traumatized protesters cry, march, shout, smash windows, set fires —and that’s just the New York Times editorial board. Leading celebrities who vowed to leave the country if Trump won immediately start making plans to … OK, to not actually leave the country per se, but next time they definitely will and YOU’LL BE SORRY.

In Washington, Democrats who believed in a strong president wielding power via executive orders instantly exchange these deeply held convictions with Republicans who until Election Day at roughly 10 p.m. Eastern time believed fervently in filibusters and limited government.

On TV, the professional Explainers, having failed spectacularly to predict what just happened, pause for a period of somber and contrite self-reflection lasting close to 15 minutes before they begin the crucial work of explaining to the rest of us what will happen next.

Joe Biden lies awake nights, staring at the ceiling.

Meanwhile a somber Trump, preparing to assume the most powerful office on the planet, puts the pettiness of the campaign behind him and — facing a world rife with turmoil — gets down to the all-important work of taking Twitter shots at the cast of “Hamilton.” He also begins assembling a cabinet that — reflecting the diversity of the nation he has been elected to lead — includes several non-billionaires. The president-elect also receives classified briefings, during which he learns, among other things, that there are a LOT of foreign countries, including some where he does not even have golf courses.

Meanwhile, the Democrats — now on a multi-year losing streak that has cost them the presidency, both houses of Congress and a majority of the state legislatures — desperately seek an explanation for their party’s failures. After a hard, critical look in the mirror, they are forced, reluctantly, to stop seeking scapegoats and place the blame where it belongs: the Electoral College, the Russians, Facebook and, of course, James Comey.

In the month’s biggest non-election news, the death of Fidel Castro is greeted with expressions of sorrow from several dozen world leaders who never had to live under his rule, and tears of happiness from many thousands of Cubans who did.

As the bitter and tumultuous month finally draws to a close, Americans briefly stop fighting over politics and come together to celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way the Pilgrims did in 1623: fighting over flat-screen TVs.

But the focus turns back to politics in …


… during which Trump continues to dominate the news, his face appearing 24/7 on every channel including the Food Network, even when the TV is turned off.

The president-elect is busy, busy, busy. Early in the month he ruffles the feathers of the Chinese government when — in what is viewed as a departure from diplomatic protocol — he texts Beijing a poop emoji. Also he threatens a drone strike against Alec Baldwin.

But the big story continues to be the cabinet. Trump’s choice for secretary of defense is James N. “Mad Dog” Mattis, who impresses Trump with his sophisticated understanding of modern military strategy and also by biting the head off a live hamster. Most of the drama, however, involves the herd of hopefuls auditioning for secretary of state, including former Trump foe Mitt Romney, who dons wingtip kneepads for his pilgrimage to Trump Tower, after which he explains to the press that his previous criticisms of Trump have been taken out of context, particularly his use of the phrase “scum toad,” which Romney says he meant “in the spirit of constructive dialogue.”

In the end, Trump gives the job to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson on the basis of having a name that sounds like a spaceship captain in a movie called “Escape From Planet Doom.”

Chris Christie dines alone in a Golden Corral in Freehold, N.J., pondering whether to accept the ambassadorship to Belize.

Meanwhile, allegations of Russian interference in the election resurface after intelligence satellites detect the presence of 43,000 stolen HILLARY yard signs in Vladimir Putin’s garage. This leads Democrats, who spent the fall mocking Trump for claiming the election was rigged, to claim that the election was rigged. Vote recounts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin fail to change the outcome, although several hundred Wisconsin ballots are found to contain disturbingly high levels of cholesterol.

The question of who won the election is formally laid to rest on Dec. 19, when the Electoral College meets and votes to go back to 2015 and start over.

No, seriously, the Electoral College formally elects Donald Trump, confounding professional pollsters who claimed to have detected a late surge for Mike Huckabee.

The New York Times and Washington Post, seeking to improve their understanding of pro-Trump America, partner with TV network news divisions to create “Operation Outreach,” in which teams of reporters will travel to non-coastal regions carrying rucksacks full of chewing tobacco and moon pies, which they will trade with the natives in return for colorful quotes about their political views, religious beliefs, sex practices involving livestock, etc.

Meanwhile abroad:

▪ French President François Hollande announces that he will not seek re-election, leading professional pollsters to predict, based on scientific analysis of the data, that he will win in a landslide.

▪ In a disturbing development, North Korean troops mass near the South Korean border armed with what intelligence sources identify as “a large quantity of Samsung Galaxy Note 7s.”

Finally, mercifully, 2016 draws to a close. On New Year’s Eve, a festive crowd gathers in Times Square, and millions more tune in on TV, to watch the ball drop that marks the dawn of the new year. This is one of the great traditions that connect us as a nation, and it serves to remind us that, although we disagree on many things, we are all part of the same big family — the American family — and when all is said and done, we hate each other.

This is what we are thinking as the big lighted ball begins to slowly descend the pole, traveling roughly two feet before it is vaporized by Russian fighter jets.

Happy New Year, fellow Americans. It’s going to be exciting.

Read more here:

Team-building, Trump-style

December 19, 2016

This article was published December 18, 2016  in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It seemed worth saving here for future reference.


By TIM JACKSON Special to the Democrat-Gazette

It’s still a little early. However, what America is going to look like when it’s great again is starting to come into view.

Here are some highlights:

A nearly 60-something white billionaire whose children never saw the inside of a public school is now going to be in charge of the nation’s public schools.

A 60-something white guy who was going to eliminate the Department of Energy if and when he became president in 2012 and assuming he could remember the name of that agency is now going to run the Department of Energy.

By the way, the Trump transition team asked the Department of Energy to provide them with a list of all their employees who might believe the scurrilous rumor that the planet’s climate is changing. Science schmience! Team Trump doesn’t want to fire those people; it just wants to get to know them a little better.

For a little variety, there’s a 40-something white guy who’s going to run the Environmental Protection Agency. His greatest qualification is that he likes to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. As Oklahoma’s attorney general he lamented that Texas was ahead of him in the number of suits filed against the EPA in favor of the fossil fuel industry that keeps Texas pumping and Oklahoma shaking.

Treasury, Commerce and Labor are being headed up by a 50-something white multimillionaire, a 70-something white billionaire, and a 60-something white multimillionaire, respectively. The first guy made a ton of money exploiting the debt crisis of 2008. The second guy “loves” debt, which is just the kind of predilection Tea Party conservatives crave. The third guy has been in a lot of lawsuits with the agency he’s going to run–which seems to be a trend in the Trump cabinet.

A 69-year-old white guy who couldn’t get confirmed as a federal judge 30 years ago because of his alleged racist tendencies is going to be the nation’s chief lawyer in charge of making sure everything is fair and legal for everyone. On a related note: Any of you that lost it over the nation electing a man named Barack Hussein Obama have a problem that our next attorney general is named Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III? No? OK. Just checking.

Then there’s Ben Carson. Dr. Ben Carson is going to run Housing and Urban Development because … well, I don’t know why. It might be the most tone-deaf pick of the litter but I can’t tell if it’s patronizing or just ridiculous, to use a favorite word in the president-elect’s vocabulary.

Back to making America great again, international style:

A 60-something white guy who runs one of the biggest oil companies in the world doing billions of dollars of business in Russia while hanging around with President Putin is The Donald’s pick for secretary of state. Which reminds me of two great moments in history:

• 1987, Ronald Reagan standing in Berlin: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

• 2016, Donald J. Trump holed up in Trump Tower: “Vlad, who do you like for state?”

(Friendly word of advice to Mr. Tillerson: Mr. Trump doesn’t take daily security briefings because they’re “too repetitive.” I suggest when discussing matters of state with the president you might want to mix things up a bit by using puppets and maybe some funny accents, just to keep him interested.)

So the “again” part of Make America Great is really starting to make sense. The prevailing vision of America for which we embraced Mr. Trump in a landslide (kudos to DJT for keeping that lie going) is one where things go the way an elite group of 60-something white rich people think they should go. Whew! Just in time because we’ve never tried that before.

The president-elect promised to shake things up. The American people would be wise to be on guard for what looks like a shakedown. On the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, I was hoping that in the worst-case scenario the president-elect would be playing Jack Nicholson’s version of The Joker to our nation’s version of Gotham. Today, it’s looking more and more like we’re going to get the Heath Ledger incarnation.

Tim Jackson of Little Rock is a registered Republican, an evangelical pastor, and a working filmmaker.

Editorial on 12/18/2016

Print Headline: Team-building, Trump-style

Garrison Keillor weighs in on Trump’s victory

November 9, 2016

Article published in the Washington Post by Garrison Keillor on 11/9/2016

So he won. The nation takes a deep breath. Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out, and a severely learning-disabled man with a real character problem will be president. We are so exhausted from thinking about this election, millions of people will take up leaf-raking and garage cleaning with intense pleasure. We liberal elitists are wrecks. The Trumpers had a whale of a good time, waving their signs, jeering at the media, beating up protesters, chanting “Lock her up” — we elitists just stood and clapped. Nobody chanted “Stronger Together.” It just doesn’t chant.

The Trumpers never expected their guy to actually win the thing, and that’s their problem now. They wanted only to whoop and yell, boo at the H-word, wear profane T-shirts, maybe grab a crotch or two, jump in the RV with a couple of six-packs and go out and shoot some spotted owls. It was pleasure enough for them just to know that they were driving us wild with dismay — by “us,” I mean librarians, children’s authors, yoga practitioners, Unitarians, bird-watchers, people who make their own pasta, opera-goers, the grammar police, people who keep books on their shelves, that bunch. The Trumpers exulted in knowing we were tearing our hair out. They had our number, like a bratty kid who knows exactly how to make you grit your teeth and froth at the mouth.

Alas for the Trump voters, the disasters he will bring on this country will fall more heavily on them than anyone else. The uneducated white males who elected him are the vulnerable ones, and they will not like what happens next.

To all the patronizing B.S. we’ve read about Trump expressing the white working-class’s displacement and loss of the American Dream, I say, “Feh!” — go put your head under cold water. Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity. America is still the land where the waitress’s kids can grow up to become physicists and novelists and pediatricians, but it helps a lot if the waitress and her husband encourage good habits and the ambition to use your God-given talents and the kids aren’t plugged into electronics day and night. Whooping it up for the candidate of cruelty and ignorance does less than nothing for your kids.

We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long , brisk walk and smell the roses.

I like Republicans. I used to spend Sunday afternoons with a bunch of them, drinking Scotch and soda and trying to care about NFL football. It was fun. I tried to think like them. (Life is what you make it. People are people. When the going gets tough, tough noogies.) But I came back to liberal elitism.

Don’t be cruel. Elvis said it, and it’s true. We all experienced cruelty back in our playground days — boys who beat up on the timid, girls who made fun of the homely and naive — and most of us, to our shame, went along with it, afraid to defend the victims lest we become one of them. But by your 20s, you should be done with cruelty. Mr. Trump was the cruelest candidate since George Wallace. How he won on fear and bile is for political pathologists to study. The country is already tired of his noise, even his own voters. He is likely to become the most intensely disliked president since Herbert Hoover. His children will carry the burden of his name. He will never be happy in his own skin. But the damage he will do to our country — who knows? His supporters voted for change, and boy, are they going to get it.

Back to real life. I went up to my home town the other day and ran into my gym teacher, Stan Nelson, looking good at 96. He commanded a landing craft at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and never said a word about it back then, just made us do chin-ups whether we wanted to or not. I saw my biology teacher Lyle Bradley, a Marine pilot in the Korean War, still going bird-watching in his 90s. I was not a good student then, but I am studying both of them now. They have seen it all and are still optimistic. The past year of politics has taught us absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zero. Nada. The future is scary. Let the uneducated have their day. I am now going to pay more attention to teachers.

Fat, Drunk and stupid

November 9, 2016

I have a bad feeling about this.

Election days—in this country, in my experience—are supposed to be hopeful days. They usually feel restorative, even if the candidates I favor seem bound to lose. (I am used toand probably more comfortable—being in the minority.) But it seems the best case today is that a clear and present danger might be avoided and a competent but divisive caretaker elected, largely by people who feel they are voting in self-defense.

I don’t want to rehash everything—Hillary Clinton has been targeted and harassed for more than three decades, and much of what some people believe about her simply isn’t true. But she was a problematic candidate from the very beginning, and she’s had trouble articulating a compelling case why she should be president other than she’s better than the alternative and that her years of service somehow entitle her to the position.

And though that’s reason enough to vote for her, it’s not enough to make some of us feel good about it. Clinton is a firewall candidate, maybe our last best hope, but it’s disturbing that so many of us are willing to support a man who quite plainly and transparently represents the worst aspects of our anti-intellectual, fear-driven society. It’s neither my job or inclination to make predictions, but my best guess is that Donald Trump will come perilously close to winning the presidency today.

If he does win, I do not think he will put me in prison immediately. But I would not put it past him to try.

Some of you would enjoy that. I know because you’ve told me so. Unless a whole lot of people are having a lot of fun with the pollsters, Trump will win Arkansas. He has the support of a governor who, in ordinary circumstances, would probably not suffer his boorishness at his dinner table. He has the affection of an attorney general who seems to believe that the people of Arkansas have positioned her to try out for the cable league shout shows. We have seen what some people will sell themselves for; we should remember those Republicans who put “team” before country.

For the last time, I want to say it plain: Trump is unfit to be president. He lies. He cheats. He’s a bad businessman and a bad American. He’s a bully who keeps score and you shouldn’t trust him around your teenage daughter, much less the nuclear football.

If you support him out of fear, you should be ashamed, for nothing noble is ever achieved from fear. If you honestly believe that for all his flaws and lies and craven advantage-taking he still represents the best way forward for this nation, then I can do nothing for you, son. The propaganda worked on you. Lee Atwater—I hope to God in heaven—is weeping because his plans worked too well.

But hey, it’s all over now. Tomorrow we’ll know, and most of us are going to accept it. There will be some grumbling, but I hope no real drama or ugliness. On Wednesday we can let this gothough some won’t. Some are already running for 2020, and don’t care how damaging this neverending campaign is to the quality of American life. Whoever the president-elect is, there’s going to be a ginned-up machine raking cash away from the scaredy Americans.

There’s going to be someone on the radio or the Internet sobbing about how someone’s coming to get their guns and that Sandy Hook was some false put-up job.

You have to be a grown-up, you have to understand that most conspiracy theories are comic book-level narratives spun by cynical people hoping to get rich off the naivety of those susceptible to that kind of story-telling. A lot of things that happen aren’t planned in secret by a cabal of insiders. Some things are, but usually we find out pretty quickly because human beings have trouble keeping secrets and any plan with a lot of moving parts is liable to fall apart at any time.

The real way to rig an election is to gerrymander congressional districts so even if a majority of Americans vote for the other party you’ll end up with more House seats. (As an institution, the U.S. House of Representatives is about as irritating and insensible as the Baseball Hall of Fame.) The real way to rig an election is to collect and spend enough money to scare off any challengers. The real way to rig an election is to enact legislation designed to change the composition of the electorate by making it difficult for certain demographic groups to exercise their right to vote.

If we were genuinely interested in having as many eligible Americans as possible participate in the democratic process, we’d make it easier to vote. We’d have registration drives in homeless shelters. We’d let people vote on the Internet or through the mail. We’d accept a little more risk of voter fraud—which, despite what you may have heard on your favorite news channel, is virtually non-existent under the current system—in exchange for a higher turnout.

I’m not saying I’m for those things. I don’t necessarily want to encourage people who aren’t terribly interested in politics to vote. I sure don’t want to shame them into it. Our Constitution ought to be strong enough to guarantee the rights of the apolitical to ignore the ladies and gentlemen in the bad (pant) suits turning rhetorical cartwheels on the periphery of the American attention span. I’m sick of people who want me to vote for them telling me how brave and honest and close to God and overall worthy they are—I’d prefer it if they’d just drop off their résumés and stay off the TV.

Anyway, tomorrow is coming. And no matter what happens, no one is coming to take our guns. No one is going to make us any greater than our spirits will allow. Make no mistake, we are getting what we deserve. We need to start taking this stuff seriously, we need to stop listening to those who tell us we’re the best and the brightest and that nothing is our fault.

To paraphrase Dean Wormer, fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through history, America.

—––––– › –––––—

Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at

Ken Gaines talks about epitaphs

November 9, 2016

This was a Facebook post from a musical friend – I admire him for a lot of reasons, many of which involve his immense skills as a songwriter and singer, but mostly because he is a beautiful, thoughtful, peaceful and intelligent man. I felt I should preserve his post here for the record.

Your quote for the day: “Excuse my dust.” Dorothy Parker suggesting her epitaph.

Hi Folks,
What is it you would prefer to leave behind when you’re no longer here, kicking up the dust of the past? Wealth for your children… tangible works of art or construction… memories in those who knew you? All of these are wonderful. I’d love to leave behind some extra cash for the kids to make their lives a little easier. It probably won’t happen. I know I’ll be leaving behind songs, writings, and works of visual art most of you know nothing about. And I’ve had a hand in building a lot of structures, from fancy bars and cabinets to chicken coops.

Memories? I’d like to think that friends and family will have fond memories of me… as long as they themselves can remember. But, in the end, “it’s all gonna fade”.

What I’d really like to leave behind is love; the love that has been given to me, and that which I have to give, and pass on. I believe love is the one powerful, positive thing that lasts. It grows when you feed it and share it with those who, in turn, share it with others. It won’t buy you a beer. It won’t have your signature on it. You won’t be able to copyright it. But you’ll be a part of it as it flows along… forever.

So, excuse my dust. And, I love you. Pass it on. It’s free. And, there’s true freedom in it.


Thanks Ken!

(Anyone recognize the Paul Simon quote from “Still Crazy After All These Years?”)


Politics – as usual?

November 4, 2016

Here’s a timely little article pulled from the Log Cabin today (11/4/16)

Jefferson/Adams was Clinton/Trump of it’s day

Politics are such a torment that I would advise everyone I love not to mix with them. Wait, that’s not me talking in 2016. That was Thomas Jefferson, writing to his daughter in 1800.

In other words — if it makes us feel any better, if perspective can perchance calm our nerves — the 1800 presidential campaign was just as vicious as what what we’re seeing now.

Incumbent President John Adams and his surrogates slimed Jefferson as a God-hater who, if elected, would close the churches and import French revolutionaries to wreak violent havoc upon the land and foment “the insurrection of the Negroes in the southern states.” Adams’ surrogates called Jefferson “an open infidel” who, if elected, “will be a center of contagion to the whole continent.”

One pro-Adams tract (akin to a superPAC TV ad) warned the people of Delaware that “if Jefferson is elected, the morals which protect our lives from the knife of the assassin, which guard the chastity of our wives and daughters from seduction and violence, defend our property from plunder and devaluation, and shield our religion from contempt and profanation, will be trampled upon and exploded.” If Jefferson is elected, Americans would become “more ferocious than savages, more bloody than tigers, more impious than demons.” And the top pro-Adams newspaper (the Fox News of its day) blared the slogan “JEFFERSON — AND NO GOD!!!”

Jefferson finally gave up trying to fact-check his accusers: “It has been so impossible to contradict all the lies that I have determined to contradict none; for while I should engage with one, they would publish 20 new ones.”

But Jefferson and his allies slimed Adams as a war-mongering dictator who wore “a mask for monarchy,” who, if re-elected, would whack the average citizen with higher and higher taxes in order to support a massive military buildup and thus burden “an enslaved and impoverished people.” Indeed, “the foundation for monarchy is already laid.” A vote for Adams was framed as a vote for “war and beggary.”

Jefferson’s surrogates, in their mass-produced pamphlets (the social media of their day), also slimed Adams as a rank hypocrite, because even though Adams routinely denounced slavery, he still had three slaveholders in his Cabinet.

Jefferson’s face is on a coin today, and Adams stars in an HBO series, but back in their day, voters basically saw that campaign as a choice between the lesser of two evils. (Which should sound familiar.) One disgruntled pro-Jefferson guy wrote, “Now I don’t know that John Adams is a hypocrite, or Jefferson a Deist” — a synynom for a God-hater — “yet supposing they are, I am of the opinion the last ought to be preferred to the first (because) a secret enemy is worse than an open one.”

And even though Washington D.C. was a brand new city, people already hated its partisan fervor. One government official wrote, “No stranger can be here a day and converse with the proprietors without conceiving himself in the company of crazy people.”

So. Do we all feel a lot better knowing that, as William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past”? That America (then and presumably now) can survive even the most twisted lies and slanders?

Oh well. It was worth a try.

Copyright 2016 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia ( and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at


November 3, 2016

From the Log Cabin in late October 2016 – Article by Marisa Hicks – Log Cabin Staff Writer


Marisa Hicks Staff photo

The “Living Legend” No. 804 was the last steam locomotive Union Pacific purchased. It was bought in December 1944 and has yet to be retired. At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the high-speed passenger engine made a pit stop in Conway before leaving back home to Cheyenne, Wyoming.


Union Pacific’s “Living Legend” rolled through Conway on its way home to Wyoming on Tuesday, making a brief stop at the Main Street crossing.

“People are fascinated with steam locomotives, young and old,” Ed Dickens Jr., engineer and senior manager of heritage operations for Union Pacific, said.

Union Pacific purchased the “Living Legend” No. 844, a high-speed passenger train, in December 1944. It was the last steam locomotive built for Union Pacific.

“The engine has run hundreds of thousands of miles as Union Pacific’s ambassador of goodwill,” a Conway Police Department press release states. “It has made appearances at Expo ’74 in Spokane, the 1981 opening of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans and the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Los Angeles Union Station in 1989.”

Conway resident Sam Ledbetter stopped by Simon Park on Tuesday to catch a glimpse of No. 844.

Ledbetter, who is a train enthusiast, said his interest in trains arose in 1981, noting he was a fan of big steam engines.

“Just the aura of the engine itself is amazing,” he said.

No. 844 last traveled through Conway in 2012, Dickens said.

He said steam locomotives “are an iconic symbol of the greatness of America,” noting the “Living Legend” has yet to be retired since its 1944 purchase.


Marisa Hicks Staff Photo

Union Pacific workers watch as the “LIving Legend” pulls into Conway while keeping onlookers at a safe distance from the old steam locomotive.

“You don’t have to be a train enthusiast to appreciate [it],” he said.

The locomotive made a 15-minute pit stop in Conway at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday before leaving for home in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Dickens said that while trains are remarkable to see, he wanted to caution onlookers to always be safe around railroad tracks.

img_1389Me and the train

States I’ve visited

October 21, 2016

Just for grins, I thought I’d post this map:


It comes from Visited States Map


He Can’t Help It If He’s Lucky

October 18, 2016

By Philip Martin

Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at

Editorial on 10/18/2016

“Who are you?”

“That’s a good question.”

–Bob Dylan’s Alias answering James Coburn’s

Pat Garrett in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

I don’t know why anyone should begrudge anyone else getting a prize; prizes are nice to get but they really don’t mean much to anyone other than the honoree. Prizes get awarded for all kinds of reasons, most of which can be dismissed by those who didn’t win the prize as trivial or “political.” Not getting a certain prize doesn’t say anything about you other than it wasn’t your turn.

Most of us never get a turn. There’s no dishonor in that. Most of us simply aren’t that lucky.

Bob Dylan can’t help it if he’s lucky. He can’t help if his life’s work–which is really more than the sum of all the words and music he has produced; it’s his persona and his myth–has had such a profound effect on so many people around the world. That’s not what he was trying to do. He was trying, like every artist, to do something essentially selfish, to somehow make the maelstrom within a thing in the world. And the genius of Bob Dylan is that he didn’t end up telling us about himself. He ended up telling us about ourselves.

He made explicit a shadow America, a place out of time and history where the Abrahams might congregate. A place of dime stores and bus stations and concrete and cascades. A floating, chimeratic America that waits just beyond the headlights of our shiny cars groping through the everlasting night.

Dylan has a magpie eye and the nervelessness of a thief. He is Coyote, and grinning reformed journalist Alias, balancing his blade and printing the legend. He made it possible for me to write a column like this one, confident that at least some faction of the presumptive audience could catch on, could project their own truth into the false tropes and dusty mannequins he trots out.

Because Dylan is a magician in the sense that none of his shtick works unless you choose to collaborate with him, to invest in his honks and wheezes and windy words that can so help me seem like second-rate college literary magazine slush-pile fodder. Some people say it’s poetry and some people say it isn’t, and while I can teach it either way I’d rather take it for itself than reduce it to typography. For Dylan, like all poets, needs the sound and rhythm to thrive.

You can’t divorce “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” from its chord structure without doing it life-threatening harm–maybe the words still work as sub-Blakesian doggerel, maybe they’re all right–at least until the third verse when the singer brings up grudging pawns and “ceremonies of the horsemen” which feels to me like a lapse of discipline (except now, because in Dylan’s time-warpy way they seem to loop in Stanley Kubrick and secret rituals businessmen get up to in their underwear).

But the song needs its melody, the tripping of descending chords, the drop from (the way I play it) D to Em (or Em7) as well as the baggy timbre of the singer’s voice to completely succeed. Yes, there are lovely covers–Ricky Nelson did it best, the Walker Brothers were OK, and if you care for Joan Baez’s schoolmarm-ish precision her pure-toned version is out there as well–but none of these really come close to Dylan’s bright, fuzzy authority.

Sure, there are plenty of people shaking their heads because they never got Dylan as a singer or a maker of music (though that’s all he ever really wanted to be; most likely he’d have probably settled for a dark chocolate tenor and a gold lame jacket and a bunch of hits with “love” in the title had some stranger unfurled a contract at some crossroads) but let’s stipulate that (a) most people don’t get most things; (b) popularity isn’t any guarantee of quality and (c) it matters a whole lot less whether someone can sing than whether they can connect.

As unlikely as it might seem to those of us who realize that show business is mostly hustle and flow (and, that like David Geffen said, there’s probably never been anyone more interested in money than Bob Dylan) every once in a while you have to acknowledge the power of a song to break your heart. What Dylan did was to make rock ‘n’ roll–American popular music–a fit pursuit for grown-ups, a legitimate way of expressing and exploring the complications of our real and dream lives. He curated our national subconscious and dragged out into the spotlight the forgotten bones of old traditions and set them aclatter. Dylan rescued and re-animated what Greil Marcus has called “the old weird America,” and set it loose in our heartless modern wilderness.

I don’t know that Dylan is a poet, but I know there is poetry in Dylan, and that we are in a season sorely lacking in that quality, an age too full of literal and vulgar minds seeking only immediate advantages and the cheapest of sensations.

I don’t know that there aren’t hundreds more “deserving,” and I’m sure that there are many who are disappointed. And I don’t know that if they’d asked me that I’d have nominated Dylan–in part because Dylan needs no nomination and his bank book is plenty big enough–but I’m just fine with him getting any roses anybody wants to throw his way.

Because I owe him a debt that I can’t pay.