Whenever Republicans face a campaign,
They trot out the same old tired refrain
And then they repeat it again and again
Until it gets stuck in the back of your brain

Just four little words, it’s their favorite spell
And over the years it has served them quite well
And reason or logic can never dispel
The feeling of dread it’s supposed to compel

“Tax-and-spend liberal”! Oh my, what a curse!
Is anything lower?  Is anything worse?
They’d claim that a rapist who murders a nurse
Is better than someone who’s after your purse!

So every time ‘Pubbies are backs-to-the-wall
Then you can rely that they’ll put out the call
“Oh horrors! Oh terrors!  Oh worstest of all!
Here come another tax-and-spend LIBERAL!!”

But magic wears off when too frequently used
And after a while, people get less confused
And they start to wonder, “Hey, have we been abused?”
When they figure it out, they will NOT be amused.

For taxing-and-spending’s what governments do
To provide for the services that both I and you
Have said that we want — and you know that it’s true
That money does not come just from out of the blue.

But deficit spending can make things seem OK —
“We’ll pay for it later!  Let’s spend it today!!
“More tax cuts! More weapons that don’t work today
But might in the future!  Hey, come on, let’s play!”

But if you are borrowing too far past your means,
You had best be investing – and we’re not – and that means
That our infrastructure will pop at the seams
With breakdowns, disruptions, bankruptcies, and liens.

And someday those bills will all have to be paid
And our kids will account for the things we mislaid
Because, in the end, we were just too afraid
To make the decisions that had to be made

The question should be, “Are our taxes assessed
In a way that is fair, and that spreads the load best?
So that no one is overly fiscally stressed
And no one rides high on the backs of the rest —

“And when we are spending, are we spending with care,
With prudence, with caution?  Do we know just where
The money is going? And when it gets there,
Is it really improving this world we must share?”

So next time that “LIBERAL!” rings in your ears,
Those obsolete “tax-and-spend” GOP jeers,
Remember that their way catastrophe nears,
And go vote your hopes — and please, don’t vote your fears.

Politics, Punctuated (2004)

The conservative! The exclamation point — there!
At the end of the accusation!
At the end of the war cry! Of the triumphant shout!
At the end of the final, fatal, dismissing expletive!

The liberal?  Well, that’s, you know, the question mark?
The sign of curiosity, of uncertainty?
Of the need to know more, to reexamine certitudes?
You know, the admission both of human limitation
and of human possibility?
Wouldn’t you say so?  What do you think?

The conservative.
The full stop.
That’s it.
End of story.

The liberal, on the other hand, is,
or perhaps could be,
the comma,
suggests that,
there may be more to come,
that the end is not yet in sight,
that something else could be,
or should be,
or must be included
before completeness is finally achieved.

The conservative is the slash
harsh and definitive
dividing alternatives:

The liberal – the hyphen –
connecting things together –
immigrant-American, self-other, low-fat.

The conservative is the colon
at the end of the phrase
“Here are your orders:”

The liberal is the semicolon;
it delineates a list of options;
it joins independent ideas.

(Or perhaps it’s the parentheses
enclosing all the other things you wanted to say
…or perhaps the ellipsis
after the words “Let me think about that…”)


The point being
some people only want
one form of speaking or the other
but how can we hold an intelligent conversation
form a coherent thought
make a valid statement
or even write a poem

if half our available grammar

has been




A philosophical manta ray (limerick)

A philosophical manta ray
Addressing a conference in Santa Fe
Said “I think we all know
That everything flows,
Or as Heraclitus states, ‘πάντα ῥεῖ .’

Unexpected “Election 2016” Plot Twist Predictions

Unexpected “Election 2016” Plot Twist Predictions

During the first debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, something totally unexpected happens.

In front of 100 million or so viewers, they fall in love.

The transcript doesn’t show it, of course – the dialog is brisk, the invective is heavy, and the accusations fly back and forth. But it’s clear as a bell to anyone watching. The body language is unmistakable. Those in the audience later report an amazing electricity in the air between the two combatants, a primal energy that cannot, will not be denied.

It soon becomes clear that their arguments about fiscal policy, immigration, and environmental protections are nothing but foreplay.

Like Sam and Diane on CHEERS, or Maddie and David on MOONLIGHTING, Hillary and Donald are about to move into the pantheon of all-time great love affairs. Not since Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor will two people so willingly throw themselves into what everyone is sure will be a train wreck of stupendous proportions.

During the second debate, conversations veer wildly off-topic, as the participants are obviously engaged in a mutual mental undressing. “We were waiting for the moment when Hillary would just lose it and tackle Donald right then and there,” Dr. Phil, one of the debate moderators, would say later. “That cougar was ready to pounce, no doubt about it.”

The third debate gets cancelled, and is replaced with a candid tête-à-tête between the two lovebirds and Barbara Walters.

Within weeks, both candidates have divorced their spouses, who then take comfort in each other. “It’s a win-win, if you ask me,” says Bill, at a press conference on the beach with Melania at their honeymoon resort in the Azores. “We may not be in the White House, but then again we don’t have to be in the White House, you know what I mean? Now shoo, I have some, uh, suntan oil to apply here.”

After complex negotiations, a historic bipartisan arrangement is made. The election will proceed as planned – but whichever person wins the Electoral College (the “First President”) will get their choice of foreign or domestic policy as their primary responsibility, and the other (the “Second President”) will take the other – with the option of their roles reversing after two years. It is also agreed that they will alternate doing the dishes, and have pizza night every Wednesday.

“We’re gonna make an awesome team,” says Donald. “Amazing. Huge. Nothing like it ever.”

Hillary, for her part, smiles quietly to herself.

And waits.


“Keeping Ahead of Reality Since 2001”

Study: “These Kids Today” Syndrome Indicates Possible Onset of “Cerebral Sclerosis,” “Calcifying of Brain Pathways”

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC (Plausible News Service) – In a landmark study being released today, researchers at the Center for Social Senility identify a simple yet troubling behavioral indicator that predicts the possible onset of memory-related disorders.

Dubbed “Juvenile Disparagement Syndrome” by the authors – and informally nicknamed TKT, or “These Kids Today,” by the press – this pattern manifests in angry, blanket condemnations of younger generations as being disrespectful, undisciplined, and lazy.

“The consistency of the symptoms is remarkable,” said the director of the study, Dr. Judy Yuventude of Duke Medical School. “In our interviews with adults approaching old age, the exact same phrases kept cropping up. We suspect that the verbal aspects of this syndrome are actually learned behaviors – people seem to pick them up from one another, usually over a beer, or from listening to talk radio.”

The syndrome affects a specific kind of memory, said Dr. Yuventude. “In a majority of cases, people developing JDS have begun to forget a simple fact – they were young once, too, and they misbehaved just as much as kids today or for that matter centuries ago.”

Physiologically, the syndrome can cause certain thought patterns to become habitual – a kind of “cerebral sclerosis,” according Dr. Oleg Golfpants of UNC, another member of the team. “These attitudes become locked in – one might almost say the pathways become ‘calcified,’ in a sense. JDS provides a simple explanation for the subject’s incipient feelings of loss of control, and relieves them of having to think in depth about certain problems. Unfortunately, it also prevents the subject from resolving some of those fears and concerns.”

Treatment and prevention are possible, said the authors. “Interaction with actual young people on a regular basis – not just being with one’s grandchildren, but also volunteering at a school or with community organizations that work with children – can be very helpful in maintaining a realistic and even optimistic attitude about today’s youth,” said Dr. Yuventude.


(A column I wrote in March 2014, and apparently didn’t post here at the time…)

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world.
It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”

― L.R. Knost

Every once in a while (as I may have observed here before), something comes across the Internet, amongst all the kittycat videos and trivial “MMM, NICE LUNCH!” status updates, that makes a reader stop dead for a moment.

I had one of those moments not too long ago, when someone passed the above quote along via Facebook.  (L. R. Knost, by the way, is a bestselling author of parenting resources and children’s books – learn more about her at   Knost’s words clarified something I had been wondering about for some time. There’s a certain cultural attitude, one that I’ve noticed never fails to get my hackles up, one of those fundamental differences in thinking styles and worldview that makes communication across political divides so difficult.

You’ve seen this attitude in action, I’m pretty sure.   It shows up a lot in those speeches that get passed around the Net, dubiously ascribed to Bill Gates, or Bill Cosby, or Kurt Vonnegut, or some high school principal in Idaho.  It doesn’t just accept the notion that life is “cruel and heartless,” it fairly revels in it. Life is rough, it says to people – especially to young people. Suck it up. Learn to deal with it. Don’t even think about changing it, because you can’t. Why not? Because you can’t, that’s why. That’s just the way it is. (Remember Sarah Palin’s famously dismissive “Hey, how’s that ‘hopey-changey’ thing coming along?”) Life, by these lights, is a nasty affair, vicious and inherently unfair, and the sooner you accept that fact, buddy, and just shut up, get to work, and learn how to take orders, the better off you’ll be.

Sound familiar?

It’s an attitude that can’t use the word “Kumbaya” without a sneer.  It regards all attempts at reconciliation, diplomacy, negotiation or kindness as hopelessly naive at best, and potentially dangerous at worst. Force, toughness, discipline – these are the things that one needs to get ahead in the world.  It regards itself as “just realistic, that’s all.” It’s the attitude that told the rest of us to “get over it” after the 2000 election debacle.  It’s the attitude that triumphantly declared its interpretation of reality as the “new normal” after the 9-11 attacks.  It’s an attitude that allows people to say to the less fortunate, “Life doesn’t owe you anything” – which of course, implies “In particular, I don’t owe you anything.”

This kind of hard-edged attitude is not the exclusive provenance of the right wing, of course – certain hardcore leftists, with their emphasis on constant and perpetual struggle, have their own harsh and humorless variations – but it certainly seems to be much more visible in its conservative manifestations these days.  This is, after all, the viewpoint that makes providing free lunches for poor children at school seem like a BAD THING because it might foster “dependence on the government.”

I’m sure that my therapist and I could spend some useful time exploring why this particular point of view irks me so much.  Now that I look back on things, I see that a good-sized hunk of my life has been spent trying to dispel this attitude in one way or another – trying, in Knost’s words, to “make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” Fortunately, I haven’t been alone in this effort, and I’m grateful for the company.


(my column for April 2016…)


FROM: Screwdisk, Senior Executive VP Sales & Acquisitions, HellCorp North America
TO: Scumbucket, Associate Tempter, District 17-B (Upper Delaware Valley and environs)
RE: primary elections and related topics

My dear nephew:

I remember when you were but a wee imp, always sticking your hooves in your mouth, lashing the household pets with your tail… so nauseatingly cute! No doubt you still recall the little rhymes your teachers taught you back then, in the early days of your training, when your horns were just coming in. This was always one of my favorites:

“Contention, dissention, resentment and rage,
These keep us in power from age to age!”

I was reminded of that instructive bit of doggerel while I was contemplating the present election cycle, and deciding what guidance I should suggest regarding managing your clientele through this season. But I’m not sure that I really need to – we’ve managed to set up a situation where practically all possibilities can be worked to our benefit. Whatever happens, there is sure to be much wailing and gnashing of teeth – because, let’s face it, whoever comes out on top, whatever the final combinations turn out to be, each combatant is bound to be not only opposed, but virulently despised, by a good-sized swath of the population.

Which is just the way we prefer it.  As our Founder likes to say: “Damned if they do, damned if they don’t!”

I remind you that in one sense, we don’t really care who wins these petty power struggles; we can and do operate within any and all political contexts. But our favorite, if we had to choose one, would probably be authoritarian theocracy. The irony of heinous sins of torture, cruelty, and degradation being committed in the name of our Opponent is just too delicious for words to express. I myself have many fond memories of such days, from the Spanish Inquisition to Puritan Massachusetts, and I have no doubt that America under Ted Cruz could be led to replicate and even surpass some the great excesses of those days.

But I also very much like the idea of voting for Trump, who so well personifies many of our favorite human traits, from his willful ignorance to his blustering aggressiveness to his truly astonishing levels of narcissism. I am particularly drawn to his potential as a catalyst for violence and hatred; from reviewing your reports I see that many of your patients would regard his success as the signal they’ve been waiting for – a sign that it was finally safe to release all the repressed anger and frustration that we have been carefully tending in their hearts for these many years.

On the other side, we are also in a win-win situation… though we could create quite a panic among certain folks if Bernie Sanders becomes the nominee, I think the win for us is bigger with a Hillary victory. The repulsion and outrage that she engenders in her opponents are truly things to be savored – and she doesn’t encourage such distasteful traits as optimism, selflessness and cooperation to the extent that Bernie does. (And if you have never sipped the ineffably sweet bitterness of the crushed hopes of a disillusioned idealistic young human, you are in for a real treat.)

Your charges don’t even have to vote, of course; we are also perfectly content to encourage cynicism, disdain, and outright apathy.  In many ways, these choices are even better.

So you see, it’s favorable news for us all around. The only danger I see is if the pure ridiculousness of their situation provokes some Americans to start to notice how they’re being managed…

But really, that’s quite unlikely.

Affectionately, your uncle,