A Fractured Nursery Rhyme (or Georgie Porgie Meets Simple Simon Meets Roger Ailes)

Roger Ailes


Mrs. Mooney met a loony

standing in a puddle.


Said the loony to Mrs. Mooney,

“You think you’d like to cuddle?


With her head held high,

She walked on by,


And her wits began to gather.

“No thanks,” said she, “I reckon I’d rather not rather.”


from a Child’s Back Alley of Verses


On Bad Poetry (Which I’ve Written Lots Of)

painting by Jivan Lee

painting by Jivan Lee

Just because a poem is famous, doesn’t mean it’s any good. Take Joyce Kilmer’s ‘Trees,” which I think I was forced to memorize every consecutive year in grade school.


I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain[1].

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.


How is this poem bad? Let me count the ways. Its meter is sing-songy, its imagery idiotic. Tree roots don’t resemble mouths, nor does the earth around them resemble a breast, so it’s hard to visualize a tree breastfeeding, nor do you want to.

Then in the penultimate couplet, the tree now has a bosom and has been “intimate” with rain. So essentially the tree is personified; it’s a suckling female child with bosoms who raises her arms to pray to God, who seems to have fashioned each tree individually with His own hands.

[Understatement alert] Here are some considerably better lines of verse concerning a tree:

Labour is blossoming or dancing where

The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,

Nor beauty born out of its own despair,

Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Yet, the author of this exquisite example of ottava rima, WB Yeats, also produced this poem, entitled “To a Squirrel at Kyle-Na-No”:

Come play with me;

Why should you run

Through the shaking tree

As though I’d a gun

To strike you dead?

When all I would do

Is to scratch your head

And let you go.

Squirrel to poet: You must be kidding me, man.

Dylan, whom I revere, can also come up with some clunkers.[2]   For example,

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me

“How good, how good does it feel to be free?”

And I answer them most mysteriously

“Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”

What’s up with the Biblical diction? And the paradox of the last line doesn’t work as an image, and what does it have to do with the rest of the song, which is about breaking up with someone because her sister is an asshole?

My favorite type of bad poem was written intentionally to be bad. I have one of these, a poem I wrote after having read mass murderer Pee Wee Gaskins oral autobiography. I had to write the poem to purge myself of Pee Wee’s tortured syntax and obscene backwoods locutions.[3] I reproduce it here with the warning that it’s disgusting in about every way possible, so if you’re squeamish and find things in extraordinarily bad taste offensive, quit reading now:

Pee Wee Gaskins Stopping by a Lake on a Summer Evening


Whose corpse this is I ought to know

Cause I’m the one what kilt it so.

I hope nobody come round here

To watch it in the lake me throw.


My common law wife must think it queer

I ain’t been home in over a year.

Running up and down the coast

Slitting throats and drinking beer.


Ain’t got no ID on him, cocksucker.

Think he said his name was Drucker.

Now I got him chained up like Houdini.

Teach him call me a scrawny motherfucker.


Them chains sure makes a body sink fast

But this here good feeling don’t never last

Just like a piece of prison ass

Just like a piece of prison ass . . .


Of course, the greatest intentionally bad poem ever written is the brilliant “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d” by the great Mark Twain.




And did young Stephen sicken,

And did young Stephen die?

And did the sad hearts thicken,

And did the mourners cry?


No; such was not the fate of

Young Stephen Dowling Bots;

Though sad hearts round him thickened,

‘Twas not from sickness’ shots.


No whooping-cough did rack his frame,

Nor measles drear, with spots;

Not these impaired the sacred name

Of Stephen Dowling Bots.


Despised love struck not with woe

That head of curly knots,

Nor stomach troubles laid him low,

Young Stephen Dowling Bots.


O no. Then list with tearful eye,

Whilst I his fate do tell.

His soul did from this cold world fly,

By falling down a well.


They got him out and emptied him;

Alas it was too late;

His spirit was gone for to sport aloft

In the realms of the good and great.

[1] Huh?

[2] You can read my argument why he deserves a Nobel Prize here.

[3] When can read about my close encounter with Pee Wee here.



Tales of the 1%: Paradise Lost

Typical Sabbath at our home

Typical Sabbath at our home

My wife Judy and I are the worst type of snobs and look down our noses at such gauche cultural artifacts as Cadillac Escalades and house brand whiskeys.

We read our Dostoyevsky in Russian, our Kierkegaard in Danish. We couldn’t agree more with Sartre: “L’enfer, c’est les autres.”

Not surprisingly, then, we have always craved our privacy, have bought homes off the beaten path or that possessed either tree-and-shrub sheltered backyards or expanses of marsh as borders.

For example, here’s the backyard of our first home in Rantowles circa 1980.

wes and Judy Rantowles

We chose the lot on Folly Beach where we built our current house to accommodate the neuroses of even the most reclusive agoraphobe, shifting the footprint of the house so it does not face head-on toward the river, but, rather, looks out obliquely to undeveloped Long Island so our eyes aren’t assailed by the unfortunate aesthetic choices of the nouveau riche.

Looking out the front yard you see this:

front view

And from foyer you see this:

backyard 1.0

And until this summer our westward side yard was a forest, but no longer. Now instead of a thatch of tropical foliage, we see this, another house!:

new house

I know what you’re thinking. You entitled piece of shit. Ever seen a favela for Christsakes?   Don’t you realize that you still have more privacy than 99% of the world?


Yes, but, it’s not about the 99%; it’s about me. Now my entire lifestyle has been jeopardized. No more naked Twister on the side porch with Meryl Streep and Don Gummer, no more enjoying the glint of sunlight on my arc of urine streaming in golden splashes from the deck.

These people who have moved in look like squares. They tool around in golf carts and wear Masters golf caps. For all I know they’re going to be blasting Barry Manilow and the Ray Conniff Singers at all hours of the night. How could a loving God have punished me so? What have I done to deserve this?

The horror, the horror!

Ominous Clouds, Tangerine-Tinted Dumpster Fires

trump and putinThe trope that the Republican presidential nominating process has been a parody of a reality TV show has been superseded with a more pernicious general election scenario – now we’re watching a neo-Cold-War thriller, The Apprentice having morphed into Bridge of Spies.

You can read about the controversy here, but the SparksNotes summary of the conjecture goes like this: Trump’s companies are in hock to Russia, which explains Trump’s odd embrace of Putin, which explains the removal of a pro Ukrainian plank from the Republican platform. If you consider these unusual geopolitical stances in light of the increasing likelihood that the hacking of the DNC’s emails is the work of Russians, it looks as if Russia, our erstwhile mortal enemy, is manipulating the presidential race to favor Trump.

Meanwhile, the leaked emails reinforce the Sanders deadenders’ belief that the election was stolen by Hillary, who, through the fogged-up glasses of their fanaticism, looks like the fraternal twin of Donald, so they demand “a choice not an echo” and would just as soon see the tangerine-tinted-dumpster-fire Donald elected as Hillary.[1]

They even booed Bernie himself, who is certainly old enough to remember this:

So, all and all, not a great start to the Democratic Convention when several polls have come out to show Trump ahead in the general election.

I say, invest in radiation suits.

[1] To paraphrase Samantha Bee’s too apt description.

Perhaps There Is Reason for Optimism

Galaxies, constellations, solar systems, stars, and planets go round and round and round in their gravitational grooves. Days are born to die, to dawn, to die, to dawn, time and time, again and again.

Yang 陽: Tribalism is brain stem stuff: Tar Heel, Blue Devil, Tyger, Tyger[1] A twig snaps; adrenalin pumps. My Territory. My Toy. My Girl.[2]   My Generation.[3] Godzilla demands that parking space. Brainstem stuff.

Life yearns to be. The lowly weed cracks through concrete in the dying strip shopping center off Folly Road. That weed feeds on the CO2 of the homeless man who instinctively dodges it with his shopping cart. Yin

Ayahuasca Shaman by Paul Heussenstamm

Ayahuasca Shaman by Paul Heussenstamm

A millennium from now, in the Amazon, ringed round a fire, Sons of the Wind tell of a time when the jungle was dying and silver birds were flying overhead buzzing with water rising and the white ghosts sighing into tiny blinking talk boxes but how Tucano chased them away with the sun itself . . .

Again and again, time and time, dawn to die, gravitational grooves, round and round, planets and stars and solar systems and galaxies.

[1] Burning bright in the darkness of the night . . .

[2] Talking ‘bout my girl, my girl.

[3] P-p-p-people try to put us down.

FOX Been Out-Foxed by FOX


Note: This post was originally published 30 November 2011

I won’t try to fool you,” he says. “You’s too smart fer me. Aint a man in dis town kin keep up wid you fer smartness. You fools a man whut so smart he cant even keep up wid hisself,” he says [. . .] “Who’s that?” I says. “Dat’s Mr Jason Compson,” he says.

Old Man Job to Jason Compson in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury

Certainly, FOX News deserves beaucoups of blame for the transformation of the Republican Party from a formidable network of conservative rationalists into a rabble of reactionaries drunk on rotgut rotbrain ideology, a corrosive concoction that destroys frontal lobes with meth-like dispatch.

Who would have guessed that 160 years after the publication The Origin of the Species the majority of candidates for the Republican nomination wouldn’t believe in evolution? That 66 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the Party of Eisenhower would reject science and claim that contrary to the readings of finely calibrated instruments, global warming is a liberal conspiracy.

cp8205_Atomic Bomb explosion

What are the odds of an honest, rational person garnering the Republic nomination? I’d say probably about the same as Pol Pot receiving a posthumous Nobel Peace Prize.

Pol Pot's Cambodian Legacy

Pol Pot’s Cambodian Legacy

Let’s imagine a fiscal conservative with impeccable credentials and an exemplary personal life running for the Republican nomination. Let’s say he’s a learned man, an eclectic but deep reader, and based on reason, he has come to reject the concept that God Almighty ordained the founding of our country and because we are exceptional, we are exempt from the rules governing lesser nation states.

Our candidate’s conception of a divine being presupposes that the deity is rational. Certainly, if an omniscient creator god (one-third-Jesus) wanted to Christianize the New World, he could have orchestrated the transformation in less lethal ways. E.g., why not anoint a Native American prophet with a vision of the Truth instead of having Europeans (those relentless persecutors of Yahweh’s Chosen Ones) commandeer the continent, exterminate the natives, and institute human slavery so the righteous could build that shining city on a hill?

And let’s say our candidate appears on Sean Hannity’s show, and Sean asks our candidate if he believes in American Exceptionalism, and our candidate, being honest, answers with what he considers to be the truth.

“No, I don’t,” he says, “not completely.”

Hannity goes haywire. “Name one country that is better than the USA!”

Our candidate offers what he considers an unassailable example of a non-American culture with a more admirable morality. He might say something like that from 1776 – 1950 Tibet was infinitely more “Christian” than the United States.*

*In defense of our imaginary candidate, I submit Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Median as Exhibit A

Painting by Charles Schreyvogel

Painting by Charles Schreyvogel

Here’s what would happen in the above scenario. Rather than engaging our candidate in a debate, countering his arguments with rational ones of his own, Hannity would scream “You mean to say that you don’t believe America is the greatest country the world has ever known!!!!????” incessantly in his face.

Later, the producers would edit the footage into its most devastatingly succinctly seditious deliciousness, and a babble of blonde anchorwomen, taking nothing for granted re. their viewers’ intelligence, would, like so many harpies, screech over and over and over again that our candidate hates America, that our candidate blames America first. We’re talking ad nauseum for days and days, the footage now appearing in ads, our candidate sharing a split screen with Fidel Castro.

James Braun: Harpy

James Braun: Harpy

Forget it, imagined candidate. The FOX News voters have just scratched you off their lists. Their minds have been narrowed in the relentless vice of reactionary propaganda. Repeating Roger Ailes’s talking points like parrots at barbecues, they’ve never tuned into the NewsHour, witnessed John Yoo and Alan Dershowitz argue diametrically opposed views in measured tones. Never really heard a credible opposing argument.

What does the rest of the unexceptional civilized world think of the Republican Party? Here’s a snippet from Der Spiegel via Harper’s Scott Horton’s translation:

Africa is a country. The Taliban rule in Libya. Muslims are terrorists. Immigrants are mostly criminals, Occupy Wall Street protesters are always dirty. And women who claim to have been sexually molested should kindly keep quiet.”

Welcome to the wonderful world of the Republican Party. Or rather: to the distorted world of its presidential campaign. For months it has coiled through the country like a traveling circus, from debate to debate, from scandal to scandal, contesting the mightiest office in the world — and nothing is ever too unfathomable for them… These eight presidential wannabes are happy enough not only to demolish their own reputations but also that of their party, the once worthy party of Abraham Lincoln.

They are also ruining the reputation of the United States. They lie, deceive, scuffle and speak every manner of idiocy. And they expose a political, economic, geographic and historical ignorance compared to which George W. Bush sounds like a scholar. Even the party’s boosters are horrified by the spectacle…

So now that FOX has successfully convinced hordes of non-critical thinkers that what’s good for the Murdock and Koch families is good for them (low taxes for the rich, the dismantlement of the EPA), it has become virtually impossible for anyone who disagrees with the FOX party line to gain the nomination.* How else to explain the Vaudevillian ridiculousness of the current crop of clowns vying to lead the most powerful nation on Earth?

Pinballing from work to the grocery store to the sports bar, we’re probably too distracted to appreciate fully how frighteningly farcical these Republican candidates actually are.


The Full Fellini

Adelson, who makes Trimalchio look refined, turned Ted Cruz away from his suite after Ted's traitorous speech

Adelson, who makes Trimalchio look refined, turned Ted Cruz away from his suite after Ted’s traitorous speech

After a rather ho-hum Tuesday night at the Republican convention, Wednesday night proved to absolutely captivating theater, a Roman spectacle worthy of the great Italian film director Federico Fellini.

Adelson's luxury suite

Adelson’s luxury suite

Besides pyramid schemers and dowdy astronauts, the speakers included, and I present them with the sobriquets The Donald bestowed upon them during the primary campaign:

Dopey Scott Walker



“The simple truth is liberal Washington insiders created these problems. And Hillary Clinton is the ultimate liberal Washington insider. If she were any more on the inside, she’d be in prison.”


Little Marco Rubio



“She planted the seeds for the disaster we now know as Obamacare. She was an ultra-liberal senator and a reliable vote for crony capitalism, Wall Street bailouts, middle-class tax hikes and out of control government spending.”


Lyin’ Ted Cruise



“And to those listening, please, don’t stay home in November. Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom and to be faithful to the Constitution.”


Second son Eric Trump



“Wow. Wow. Good evening, Cleveland. Wow. It is such an honor to be here for a man I love so, so, so so much. That’s my father.”



Newt and Callista Gingrich



“To paraphrase Ted Cruz if you want to protect the constitution this fall the only possible choice is Trump/Pence.”



And, finally, Mike Pence (who if he had opposed Trump in the primary would no doubt be known as “Beady-Eyed” Mike).


“For those of you who don’t know me — which is most of you — I grew up on the front row of the American dream. My grandfather immigrated to this country. I was raised in a small town in southern Indiana, in a big family with a cornfield in the backyard. Although we weren’t really a political family, the heroes of my youth were President John F. Kennedy and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”


Unlike Walker and Rubio, who swallowed their pride and forgot about earlier Trumpian aspersions and voiced support for the nominee, Cruz seemed to resent having Trump call him a liar, his wife ugly, and his father a conspirator in the JFK assassination. He more or less told the convention not to vote for Trump.  This colossal snub elicited a mob-screech of displeasure from the delegates.  Poor Mrs. Cruz had to be escorted out by security for protection, and Sheldon Adelson turned Cruz away when he tried to enter his luxury suite (see above).

Of course, the featured speaker Pence became a mere footnote as he dutifully filled the arena with blandishments.

Oh where have you gone. Federico Fellini, a nation turns its late empire eyes to you!



My Imaginary Comical Sidekick

Imaginary Comical sidekick

Skeeter, my imaginary comical sidekick,

Is much older than me –


short, wiry,

with requisite grizzled grey beard,

tangled shoulder-length hair.


Actually, he’s as bald

as a turtle’s egg on top,

So he sleeps in his sweat-stained 10-gallon Stetson,

And, of course, his snoring is

wheezily musical.


Imaginary comical sidekicks

Are easier to care for than pets.

Because of their invisibility,

You can take them anywhere.


On the Metro,

Because he’s invisible,

Skeeter gets sat on a lot.

When some disaffected, slouching

Teen with earbugs plops down,

Skeeter never fails to let loose

a screedy torrent of whispery

G-rated cussin’:



Golly bum!

Watch where you’re sitting!

Ain’t you got no




On rainy Saturdays,

We hang out watching old Westerns,

Hopalong Cassidy and Gabby Hayes,

Roy and Dale and Pat Brady —

“Pat’s about as funny as Tonto”,

Skeeter says, and “Tonto’s about

As funny as small pox,” I say —

And we sing together as one,


Day 1 of the 2016 Republican Convention

Republican convention day 1

This morning’s Post and Courier’s headline reads “GOP vows to unite America,” which I think is a noble and necessary aspiration, but how are they going to accomplish this difficult task in a nation so polarized?

Certainly, the New Testament might be a good place to start given its message to love thy neighbor as thyself, so obviously the opening prayer would be an excellent place to begin the unification process.

So, hit it, Pastor Mark Burns:

Hello, Republicans! I’m Pastor Mark Burns from the great state of South Carolina! I’m gonna pray and I’m gonna give the benediction. And you know why? Because we are electing a man in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ. And Republicans, we got to be united, because our enemy is not other Republicans – but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Okay, so Hillary Clinton is not a “sister” but an enemy. Got it.

So, let’s hear from Darryl Glenn, the Republican candidate for Senator, addressing the convention a few hours after the Colorado delegation walked off the convention floor in anger.

This President ran to be Commander-in-Chief. Unfortunately, he’s become “Divider-in-Chief”.

We’re more racially divided today than before he ran.

But there’s more.

The New Black Panthers, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton don’t speak for black America.

This is not about black America, white America or brown America, this is about the United States of America.

Mr. President here’s (sic) the facts.

Neighborhoods have become more violent under your watch.

Your rhetoric has a direct impact on the relationship between communities and the police.

We can bring this country together.

Excuse me, Darryl Glenn. Here are the facts:


Okay, I’m going to skip Scott Baio and Patricia Smith (who said “I blame Hillary Clinton for the death of my son”)[1], Rudy Giuliani, the “lock her up chants” from the delegates, and go to the one speech that wasn’t full of rancor, Melania Trump’s. As they say, a YouTube video is worth 45 words:

[1] No wonder John Kerry didn’t win the presidency. Imagine the truckloads of mothers who could have taken the stage and blamed George W Bush for the deaths of their sons and daughters in Iraq.

melania poster

Tips for Aspiring Fiction Writers


blind date

  1. Marry someone rich.
  1. The secret is making readers care about your characters — whether they love or hate them. I suggest rather than making characters up “out of whole cloth,”[1] you should base them on celebrities. For example, let’s say you want to write about a gay/straight-double-blind-date-from-hell. Throw together a Charlie Sheen character dating an Ann Coulter character who are setting up a Scott Baio character with a Chris Hayes protagonist.[2] [See above illustration]
  1. Life is a cliché; don’t avoid clichés (unless you’re writing porn).
  1. Speaking of porn, don’t describe sex scenes unless you’re writing erotica, and if you’re writing erotica, you’re even more obsolescent than Henry Miller’s typewriter. Why read Tropic of Cancer when you can watch Ultra Kinky 79 on your computer?
  1. Be careful with the point-of-view. Even stupid readers can sometimes detect point-of-view violations, and they’ll mock you in a way you don’t want a stupid person mocking you.
  1. There’s a only a two lane highway between being ungrammatical and stiffly precise. Go ahead, split infinitives, go with the vernacular, but don’t dangle those goddamned modifiers, like, like, “While watching Ultra Kinky 79, the pizza burned.”
  1. When you receive rejection slips, just remember that what you wrote probably sucks even more than the tripe you can’t believe gets published, like the flat unmusical navel-gaze of the typical New Yorker poem. [3]
  1. If you’re a dedicated teacher, you’re not going to have time write fiction (see tip #1).
  1. Don’t go out and live an exciting Hemingway-like life.   Rather, like Flannery O’Connor, pay attention in the waiting room.
  1. Marry someone rich.


[1] If you don’t know this phrase it means you don’t read nearly enough.

[2] If you don’t know who Chris Hayes is, you’re not well-informed enough.

[3] Beware of bitterness.