Every Day is a Monkey Trial in America’s ‘New Age of Disbelief’

On March 13, 1925, the Tennessee Senate passed the Butler Bill which banned the teaching of evolution in public schools. The law had already passed the state House of Representatives in January. It was signed into law by Gov. Austin Peay on March 21, 1925. It was the cause of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, Tennessee later that year.dayton

            Although the law was repealed 42 years, the debate over evolution continues, to varying degrees, in school jurisdictions and academic circles across the country. Actually, every day in America seems like there is a monkey trial of one sort or another taking place whether it be about evolution, global warming, vaccinations or any number of other issues being scrutinized.

            The March issue of the highly respected National Geographic has a cover proclaiming “The War on Science” and explores the current “Age of Disbelief” in which scientific evidence about many issues is discounted and dismissed by mostly politically and religious conservatives but, also, on some issues, by some liberals, too.NGM2015_MAR_CV2-275x400 (1)

            One of the first things I tried to teach my children was the difference between these two statements: 1.) This is chocolate ice cream and 2.) Chocolate ice cream is the best ice cream. The first statement is a fact, the second is an opinion.

            Unfortunately, segments of our society now contend that just because they believe something, it is therefore true. That is not what made America great. America, for better and sometimes worse, has always challenged the status quo. Progress does not come from entrenched beliefs based on want or need. Progress comes from exploring and problem-solving based on curiosity and acquired knowledge.

            And while well-trained and educated people can sometimes look at the exact same data and evidence and come to different conclusions, no one can claim that the obvious evidence indicates the sun rotates around the earth. That is what it looks like, but that simply isn’t what is happening.

            I can’t and won’t debate each and every issue here. While I do not believe that science is infallible, I generally trust it over superstition, ignorance and political divisiveness and pig-headedness.

            I also believe the mechanics of a tree or the lifecycle of water are not political.

            And I believe we must educate ourselves so we understand, for instance, that, despite what politicians say, there is no such a thing as “American oil.” The oil belongs to the companies who drill it and refine it and most of them are not American and, besides, they can sell it wherever they get the best price.

            Most disturbing trend, though, is what is called “intellectual dishonesty” meaning a person knows better but chooses to parrot or espouse weak or disproven or even silly notions for some of the afore mentioned reasons.

            We need problem-solvers, not witch doctors, demagogues and deniers of truth. We need old people to remember what it was like to put men on the moon and for young people to begin dreaming big and doing big instead of day dreaming and living in virtual realities.

            There is work to be done that requires sound minds and honest hearts and a firm grip on reality. The stakes are high and time is short. Make a better tomorrow based on reality.discover

Trudging through Noir to Oblivion

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from my novel, working title Shiva’s Dance. Play the music attached at the bottom if you wish for some moody atmosphere.

Saturday, December 6, 1980

Brooklyn, New York

After Ellen threw me out of her apartment, I was lost and alone during what are poetically called the wee small hours of the morning but was, as everyone knows, that haunted time of night when only blood suckers and rippers of human flesh roam the streets sniffing for fresh meat.

night 2

I lugged a suitcase in each cold hand for several blocks of stores and old brownstones that were mostly empty and boarded up. I knew the lay of the land: to the east, the sun would rise, hopefully soon, at which time it would illuminate the Manhattan skyline to the west; to the north was Albany, mountains, Canucks and beyond that, Eskimos and polar bears; Jersey junkyards westward across the river from Manhattan, cowboys and wild Indians beyond that, then the Rockies and then the sunny surf of California; Philadelphia and Washington to the south, then hillbillies and Caribbean pirates once you get to the water; angels and aliens among the night clouds scattered above; Murphy men in the doorways and hobos in the alleys and zombies in the sewers; the subways to Manhattan somewhere that way, if I remembered correctly, which I hoped I did.

I headed for my friend Jeff’s apartment in the Village, knowing that it will take forever. I stopped for a moment under a streetlight and threw the stuff I didn’t want into one suitcase and the stuff I wanted in the other.

A half block further, I decided to throw the toss suitcase into a smoldering garbage can in a trash-filled alley. I noticed two scarecrows leaning up against a wall trying to keep warm. “Here you go, gentlemen.” I placed the discard suitcase in front of them. I turned to walk on. “Fuck it.” I set the second suitcase down. “I can keep both hands warm now.”

One scarecrow laughed, coughed and wheezed, “Gotta smoke?”

“No,” I lied.

“We don’t need suitcases, you dumb fuck,” screeched the other scarecrow.

“Look inside or just burn em.” I kept moving and tried not to show any fear. I figured I’d walk until daybreak and then, even on a Sunday morning, I’d be able to get a cab to Jeff’s.

A little later, I couldn’t tell when, I was damp, chilled and desperately needing sleep. I flung a half-smoked cigarette to the sweaty, smelly pavement. A muted trumpet, the steam from the manhole covers and, oh yeah, a dog barked somewhere.Noir. Deep Noir. That’s where I was.

I trudged along to Benny’s Goodman’s forlorn “Goodbye,” or the somewhat sinister “Nightmare” by Artie Shaw. I thought I heard a torchsong-singing incarnation of Ellen slurring “Cry Me a River.” That kind of music was still played on a few big city radio stations and could be heard from juke boxes in musty taverns; faint echoes from a time when love was either all or nothing. Not like it was today when love can be customized to fit practically any situation you need or want.

I heard myself reciting a tough guy Philip Marlowe voice-over: Love’s funny, know what I mean? Funny how it can make a smart guy stupid.  You go in one side cocky and thinking you’re bullet-proof. You come out the other side riddled with holes and bleeding to death. Course I ain’t talking about bullet holes; it’s arrows, Cupid’s arrows. That little troublemaker, always waiting to ambush a guy just when his hopes are up and his guard is down. Like I said, it’s funny how stupid a smart guy can be when it comes to love.

Anything was possible that time in the morning. I turned a corner, came upon the coffee shop from Edward Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, the iconic four-person portrayal of late night urban malaise. I always thought of that place as a kind of waiting room for oblivion. There was nowhere left to go so I walked in. The guy behind the counter poured me a cup of coffee. It seems coffee is the only thing served there. Maybe the golden-haired attendant, dressed all in white, is Saint Peter or maybe he is a space alien and the two big metal coffee urns are his jet pack. nighthawks-designboom-04

I finished the coffee, stood without paying and went through the door on the back wall. No lion or lady waited for me on the other side;  no heaven or hell, either—just nothing, nothing at all.



Cry Me a River