Sunday, July 25, 2021

Wally Funk

Say what you will about Jeff Bezos, but he did one incredibly cool thing regarding his trip into space last week aboard his own rocket ship, he invited Wally Funk to join him,

Wally Funk
In case your feelings about the current  billionaires' race to space range from blase to shitting bricks pissed off and you haven't been paying attention, Wally Funk is a pilot who in the early sixties was chosen to be part of a group of women who were tested to see how they would fare during space flight. The tests ran concurrently with the Mercury Program, the United States' first foray into manned space exploration. 

I guess it's appropriate to use the term "manned" here because in the end, the program that Ms. Funk took part in was ignobly scrubbed and the United States wouldn't send a woman into space until 1983 when Sally Ride climbed aboard the space shuttle Challenger for her first of two missions, both aboard that ill fated spacecraft. Ride joined NASA after seeing an ad in her college newspaper soliciting women to become applicants for astronaut training.

Much like everything during the early days of the space race between the US and the Soviet Union, the USSR was way out in the lead as their first female Cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova ventured into space inside her Vostok 6 capsule in June of 1963. Having orbited the earth 48 times in just shy of three days, Tereshkova logged more hours in space than all seven of the American Mercury astronauts combined. She remains the only woman to have flown a solo mission. 

The group of women which included Ms. Funk, took part in a privately funded  initiative called "The Women in Space Program" which was conceived in order to test whether women would make good candidates for space travel. It all began when the program's founder, Dr. William Lovelace who designed many of the tests that NASA used on their candidates for the Mercury Program, invited the highly decorated pilot Jerrie Cobb to take those same tests, all of which she passed. Lovelace's friend, Jacqueline Cochran, another noted pilot and businesswoman, agreed to finance a project that would test more. In all about 25 women, all elite pilots in their own right, were recruited for the project. Thirteen of the women passed the same insanely rigorous tests as the seven men who were chosen for the Mercury Project.

That is until Phase III of the tests which would have been held at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine. After Jerry Cobb took and passed all those as well, the Navy cancelled the tests as NASA, who was not  involved in the project, refused to sign off on it. 

There were a plethora of reasons why NASA might have been reticent to include women astronauts. Some were legitimate concerns (all subsequently put to rest) about how the female anatomy would handle space travel. Along those lines, probably the number one concern was menstruation in a weightless environment. I know that sounds ludicrous, simply a pretext to exclude women, but in space, an environment where even farting is cause for concern, no stone can remain unturned. Another cause for concern was how space would affect a woman's fertility. Apparently it doesn't. Then there were the  typically male concerns such as whether a woman's natural temperament, especially during her period, might prove problematic during a space flight.

On the other hand, the chief motivator for the study of the Women in Space Program, was the idea that there might be several advantages of having women astronauts over men. For example on average, women are smaller then men, they eat less, and consume less oxygen. As prosaic as that sounds, all that adds up to a significant reduction in cargo weight, meaning less fuel required per astronaut, a precious commodity in space travel. Women were also found to do better than men in isolation tests suggesting that they would fare better on very long missions such as a trip to Mars.

But all that would be way in the future and NASA had in the early sixties one and only goal, to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade as President Kennedy proposed during his speech before Congress on May 25, 1961, and no obstacle was going to get in its way.

Perhaps the biggest red flag of all for the ever PR conscious space agency was public opinion. I don't have the stats to back this up, but my guess is that despite the tens of thousands of young American women or maybe more at the time, tingling to get a chance at becoming an astronaut, the very real prospect of sending a woman to her death on a space mission, even if she willingly accepted the risk, would have been unacceptable for the majority of Americans at the time, and almost certainly would have killed the program. 

Pretexts aside, all that was moot. NASA's ace in the hole for not allowing women in space was the requirement imposed on them by President Eisenhower, that candidates for the astronaut corps all be selected from the ranks of elite military test pilots. By elite I mean jet pilots and guess what? The military did not allow women to fly jets in those days. 

Now it must be pointed out that in reality, at least during the Mercury program, there was little flying involved on the part of the astronauts as the flights were controlled remotely from the ground. The original astronauts in fact had to lobby for systems inside their capsules that would enable them to control the spacecraft, if ever so slightly. As I pointed out in my last post, the very first Mercury astronauts were chimpanzees, both of whom I'm guessing never flew planes, let alone jets. Truth be told, the original astronauts didn't need to be pilots at all, (Valentina Tereshkova wasn't) let alone jet pilots. Like practically everything involved with the space program in those days, the jet pilot requirement was pure PR. 

But rules are rules.

However there was another requirement that was waived for one of the male astronauts, a college degree, something John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, did not possess at the time.

Cobb and her fellow astronaut hopeful Janey Hart hoping to take advantage of that Glenn exception, appealed to President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson (who oversaw NASA) and the issue was brought before a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics who examined the possibility that gender discrimination may have played a role in the matter, (ya think?). 

Among those testifying before the committee against having women astronauts was none other than John Glenn himself.

 At those hearings, Glenn said:

The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.

As unenlightened as those words sound today, Glenn, definitely a man of his time, wasn't too far off base, at least in describing the social norms if not necessarily the reality of 1962 America. If you're not old enough to remember, take a look at the way popular culture prescribed gender based roles for men and women. It was a world filled with women who served predominantly as homemakers married to professional men. They had names like June Cleaver, Laura Petry, and just plain Jeannie whose fictional partner whom she called Master, was an astronaut. 

Perhaps the baddest pilot of all,
Jerrie Cobb, who when all was said and done,
in William Lovelace's rigorous astronaut tests
finished in the top 2 percentile of all
potential astronauts, male and female. 

What you never saw on TV or in the movies movies in the late fifties and early to mid sixties were bad ass female pilots with names like Myrtle Cagle or Wally Funk, or physicists turned astronauts named Sally Ride. That name did however serve as the refrain to a very cool soul tune from the era made famous by Wilson Pickett called "Mustang Sally."

But it wasn't just pop culture where women's options were limited. Check out this video of clips of John F. Kennedy press conferences and see how he dismissive he was of the woman reporter who sincerely questioned him about promoting equal rights for women in this country.

That reporter, Mae Craig, a highly respected veteran journalist who marched with Suffragists in the twenties, implied in her question that despite working hard to promote the rights "of others", the Kennedy administration was doing little to advance the rights of women. As you can see from Kennedy's response, the issue of equal rights for women was simply not taken very seriously by him, or for that matter mainstream America in the early sixties.  

Mae Craig's question to the president turned out to be prophetic insofar as women astronauts were concerned. While Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin and should have opened the doors for women astronauts, it didn't. It would take another eight years when an amendment was added to the title which granted women the right to legal representation in their quest to become astronauts. Consequently in 1978, NASA dropped its requirement that astronauts be jet pilots and started recruiting female candidates for the corps, precisely the time Sally Ride found the brochure that would change her life.  

Since Sally Ride's first mission in 1983, as of a week ago, 51 American women astronauts have flown into space.

Last Tuesday, Wally Funk raised that number to 52. Coincidentally that day was the 52nd anniversary of the first "manned" lunar landing, 

At age 21, Funk was the youngest member of the Women in Space program and one of the 13 who passed all of the astronaut tests given to them. She also passed equivalents of the Phase III tests, having taken them privately, outside of the naval facilities.

Her background was similar to that of her fellow Women in Space members in that she fell in love with planes and aviation at a very early age, in her case at about the same time that she learned to walk. She had her first flight lesson at nine, and received her pilot's license, AND became a professional pilot at 19. 

Wally Funk was thwarted from pursuing her dreams to their fullest her entire life because of her gender. Perhaps it started in high school when she wanted to take electives in shop and technical drawing but was told she could only take home economics classes. So she did what any sensible person would do, she left high school early and enrolled in a college where she would thrive. I guess you could do that in those days. 

Later when she applied for a job as a commercial airline pilot, a position she was more than qualified for, she was rejected on the pretext that there were no rest rooms for women in their training facilities.  

And on and on. Yet despite that, up to this point by all accounts she has led a very rewarding life in the field of aviation including high level positions in both the FAA and the FTSB. 

I say up to this point because clearly she's not finished. As she emerged from the capsule after her brief encounter with space last week, she was clearly exhilerated but bemoaned the fact that the experience was way too short and couldn't wait to do it again. Long before Bezos asked her to accompany him aboard the maiden passenger flight of his spacecraft, Ms. Funk put down a deposit to fly aboard Richard Branson's spacecraft when it goes into service shuttling passengers for brief trips outside the earth's atmosphere. That spacecraft unlike Bezos's, is a space plane, controlled by two pilots who like the old Space Shuttles, guide their craft to a landing on a runway rather than a capsule parachuting to the ground.

As part of the competition between the two billionaires, perhaps Branson will top Bezos by asking Funk to take over the controls in one of his space planes. 

Now THAT would be sweet justice.

In that vein, John Glenn finally got the comeuppance he deserved for the words he spoke at that hearing so many years ago. For twenty three years he held the record as the oldest person, at 77, to have been in space. Wally Funk at 82 beat Glenn's record last Tuesday. Given the current push to send paying customers into space, I'm sure that record will not hold for long. I also wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Ms. Funk breaks her own record. 

Wally Funk's list of accomplishments in aviation as well as other fields is too numerous to list here but in case you're interested, as you should be, you can read all about them here.

Today she is only one of two surviving members of that elite group of pilots who participated in the Women in Space program who long after the fact, received the moniker "The Mercury 13". 

Ironically, most of the members of The Mercury 13 never met one another during the project as their tests were held separately. Many of them finally got together on the occasion of the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-63, the first shuttle mission to be piloted by a woman, Eileen Collins. Here is a photo of them taken at Cape Canaveral in front of the launch pad in 1995:

Seven members of the Mercury 13 from left to right:
Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Ratley,
Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman.

The total number of women of all nationalities who have logged hours in space is 65.* Needless to say all of them owe their careers to these pioneers of space and the rest of their remarkable bad ass comrades. 

Here in alphabetical order, is the list of the Mercury 13:

Myrtle Cagle, Jerrie Cobb, Janet Dietrich, her twin sister Marion Dietrich, Wally Funk, Sarah Gorelick, Jane Briggs Hart, Jean Hixson, Irene Leverton, Jerri Truhill Sloan, Bernice Stedman, Gene Nora Stumbough,  and Rhea Woltmann.

In reflecting on the women who could have been astronauts, Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter had this to say:
"NASA never had any intention of putting those women in space. The whole idea was foisted upon it, and it was happy to have the research data, but those women were before their time."
That's for sure.

* Sadly, Christa McAuliffe, NASA's first civilian on a space mission is not counted among the 65 because her one mission which ended tragically aboard the Shuttle Challenger, never technically made it into space.

Including McAuliffe, a total of four women have lost their lives during space missions. The other three are Judith Resnik, McAuliffe's crewmate aboard Challenger, and Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark, both of whom perished as a result of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. 

Tragic as the loss of their lives was, the lessons learned from the mistakes that led to the catastrophic accidents that caused their deaths have helped make space travel a little less risky for their successors. 

I have no doubt that to a woman, each of them would look at their ultimate sacrifice that way.

They and their crewmates who perished aboard Challenger in 1986, and Columbia in 2003, fourteen in all, will never be forgotten. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Billionaires in Space

I didn't have plans to watch Richard Branson's foray out of the atmosphere last week, but the TV was on at my mom's house and I didn't have anything better to do so...

Quite honestly, having horrible memories of two space shuttle tragedies that claimed the lives of 14 astronauts, I was a little worried about being witness to another horrific event. That's exactly why I'm not an auto racing fan, just not into seeing people die in front of my eyes.

Fortunately my fears were not realized as Branson and his five fellow astronauts, two pilots and three other passengers or in the official space travel jargon, "mission specialists", arrived safe and sound back on terra firma about 45 minutes after their brief experience of the weightlessness of inner space.

I use that term because there is some disagreement as to where the earth's atmosphere ends and space begins. In the fifties, physicist Theodore von Kármná calculated that the atmosphere became too thin to support aerodynamic flight at around 100k or 62 miles above sea level. Branson's spacecraft did not cross the "Kármán Line" therefore to some, including his chief competitor in the current billionaire's space race Jeff Bezos, who is scheduled to blast off in his own space ship in about oh T-minus 58 minutes and counting from this writing, Branson didn't quite get there.

However NASA, who I'd say has a little experience with the subject, draws its space line at 50 miles above sea level and (something I just learned the other day) awards astronaut wings to folks who pass that threshold. For the record, Branson's craft reached 53.5 miles.  

Before the flight I was hopelessly ignorant of Branson's, Bezos's or Elon Musk's SpaceX missions. Such a far cry from when I was a kid glued to the TV for every US space launch from sometime during the early Gemini missions, through Apollo and the moon landings, SkyLab, the first American "space station" and into the era of the Space Shuttle. 

Then after about three or four shuttle missions, I lost interest, as there didn't seem to be a glamorous objective for the space program anymore, at least the manned part of it. I wasn't alone in my indifference which I'm sure inspired NASA, in order to attract more public attention and political support to their efforts, announced through President Reagan in 1984 that it would send their first civilian, a teacher into space on the shuttle. The person selected out of 11,000 applicants was middle school teacher Christa McAuliffe from, Concord, NH. 

That got my attention.. But the Chicago Bears had just won the Super Bowl and the rest of the city and I were thawing out after the glorious victory parade in single digit degree temperatures in the Loop the day before the launch of the Challenger. Let's just say my mind was elsewhere. I was at work that Tuesday and will never forget exactly where I was when I learned that Challenger had exploded shortly after the launch, killing McAuliffe and her six crew mates.

Needless to say, like practically everyone, I was deeply affected by the tragedy, I can only imagine how it must have impacted the people who were watching the doomed launch as it unfolded live on TV, especially the tens of thousands of students in their classrooms watching because of McAuliffe's involvement in the mission. 

It had been nearly twenty years since the last fatal NASA accident involving astronauts (which took place on the launch pad during a pre-flight test) and Americans had become accustomed to seeing astronauts blasting off into space and returning safely. Even the near disaster of Apollo 13 only proved that the brilliance, ingenuity and quick thinking of the team of professionals who ran the space program, made a tragedy like the one that befell Challenger, inconceivable.

Well that's what it seemed like anyway. Because of the perpetual chin up attitude (at least in public) of the folks at NASA and let's face it, a little luck, few of us I think really had any idea until January 28, 1986, how truly dangerous going into space was.  

Just as after the tragedy of Apollo I, the issues that caused the Challenger disaster were addressed, the appropriate heads rolled, and we were back in business, up in in space after an appropriate hiatus.

Then it happened again, 17 years later. Once again I had by and large little if any interest in the Shuttle program and had no idea there was even a mission taking place. But by chance I happened that day to be on my way to an all day retreat when I heard a report on the radio that the Space Shuttle Columbia, the first of the shuttles to be launched 22 years before and on its 27th mission, was preparing for re-entry after a two week mission. I said a little prayer for the astronauts' safe return, then didn't think about them for the rest of the day. The retreat went without a hitch until the end of the day when one of the leaders of the retreat announced that early that morning, Columbia broke up upon re-entry, killing everyone on board. 

Space travel is serious business indeed. 

That fact was brought up during the broadcast of Branson's flight to one of the fellows involved in the current race to space by private entities who hope to very soon be sending paying customers into space. When the interviewer pointed out that the current mortality rate of astronauts on missions into space is a little over three percent, (therefore not a very good business model), space guy assured us that today we have computer modeling systems that can predict and correct far more problems before they occur that ever before.

I'm sure he's right. I can remember when you could bank on there being at least one or two major airline crashes every year in this country alone and many more around the world. Because of artificial intelligence systems detecting problems in time, and greatly reducing the chance of pilot error, and because of ever more stringent safety regulations in place, crashes such as those common in the past, taking the lives of hundreds of people every year, are rare indeed, at least in the US and Europe.  

But they still do happen. Of course, even back when airplane crashes were fairly commonplace, your chances of surviving a commercial air flight were greater than your chances of surviving a ride in the car. Today they're far greater. 

Obviously space flight is a different matter which begs the question, what's the point of investing all the time and money into a venture that when you come to think of it at these early stages anyway, is little more than providing very rich people the world's most expensive and dangerous amusement park ride? And of course the inevitable lament that I've been hearing all my life: "just think if all that money going up into space was spent down here on earth, all the problems we could solve."

Personally I'm on the fence with this one. What Branson, Bezos, Musk and others are doing is what people have been doing since we've been people, exploring the unknown and challenging themselves to get there. It's in our DNA. Without it, the species Homo sapiens would have never left its ancestral home in Africa. 

Some say that would have been a good thing, especially for our planet. Perhaps. 

But given the fact that didn't happen, it's pointless to get on a soapbox harping about these people and their ambitions to get into space. Whether we like it or not, they're going ahead with their plans. Like all innovation, there will be discoveries made that right now we can't even imagine. ones that will in fact address many of the problems we have down here on earth. There will also be discoveries that may make matters worse for us as well, that's just how innovation works, no matter how good the intention. 

We will certainly see our home planet in a different light. You can't see national borders from space for one thing, but you can see much of the impact human existence has had on the earth's environment, most of it not for the good. From all I've ever heard, the experience of being in space is a profound, life-altering experience, perhaps it will dawn on some of the movers and shakers floating around during their magic carpet rides in space to rethink their attitudes about how we treat our home and our fellow space travelers who inhabit it.

On the other hand, I've heard arguments for expansion into space that say it's necessary to explore and develop other worlds because one day, our old world may not be inhabitable anymore.

I have a better idea.

Let's not let that happen.


Jeff Bezos's flight this morning came off seemingly without a hitch. The passengers which included both the oldest person who has ever been to space (and who deserves a post of her own) and the youngest ever, along with Bezos and his brother, all grinned from ear to ear as they disembarked from their capsule minutes after it touched down. The flight was seemingly so flawless, it inspired one reporter to remark that space travel was no longer dangerous.

That struck me as a wildly ignorant comment, and reminded me of the first passenger aboard a US space flight, Ham the chimpanzee.

That event inspired this comment from the film The Right Stuff, uttered by Sam Shepard in the role of Chuck Yaeger, regarding the character of astronauts at the time who unlike pilots, had very little if any control of their spacecraft and were essentially replacing chimps in space:

 Think a monkey knows he's sitting on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys, they know that, see? Well, I'll tell you somethin' - it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that's on TV.

While going into space is no longer exactly a suicide mission, there is still a good amount of risk involved. I'm afraid once Bezos' and Branson's space tour buses get a few successful journeys under their belts, folks both working on them on the ground and those paying top dollar to fly in them are going to become complacent and forget this process still involves human beings sitting atop a glorified stick of dynamite. That complacency is where the real danger lies I'm afraid.

Real astronauts, and by that I mean the ones who train for years to get their chance to work on a mission are another story. They know exactly all of the risks involved, and that any moment, especially during launch or re-entry, may be their last. Perhaps one of the most enlightened writers I've read, explaining the experience of being in space is former astronaut, Chris Hadfield. Here is an interview he gave with NPR's Terry Gross in 2013.

If you have even the slightest interest in space travel, or for that matter life on earth, trust me, listening to this interview is 43 minutes well spent.

Anyway here's the deal. Having just said everything above about my reticence of sending civilians into space, if someone offered me a free ride in either Bezos's of Branson's space buggies, would I take them up on it?

You bet I would.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Gaslighting and Button Pushing, Spotting BS a mile away...

In my penultimate post I wrote about the kerfuffle over the ultra-right's latest bogyman, the teaching of "Critical Race Theory" (CRT) in our schools. Just as Donald Trump in 2016 used immigration (an issue older than this nation), as a lightning rod to instill fear and loathing among the potential voters who would become his base, today's Trumplicans have come up with another "new" threat which has also been around for quite some time. Much like the immigration "crisis" of 2016, they portray CRT as having the potential to destroy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we know it. 

In other words as many have suggested, if you can't find a real issue to debate, make one up.

Once again, CRT is a school of thought based upon the principle that racism is endemic in our society. Here's a good explanation from this article in the site "Education Week":

The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

One doesn't have to be in perfect lock-step with every idea coming out of the mouths of CRT proponents, I certainly am not. But unless you are ignorant of or in complete denial of our racist past including slavery, Jim Crow, forced segregation, as well as ongoing events such as racial profiling, the epidemic of police shooting unarmed black people, and states' disenfranchisement of minority voters under the deceitful pretext of eliminating virtually non-existent voter fraud,  (just to name a handful of injustices all of which at one time or other were deemed perfectly "legal"), it's hard to argue with that basic tenet of Critical Race Theory.

Yet the idea of teaching our children that this country's history and present are not entirely rosy is unacceptable for many, and yet another made-up crisis is hoisted upon us by the opinion shapers of the ultra-right.

I just came across an article written by David Limbaugh, yes indeedy the little brother of the late bombastic darling of the Trumplicans, Rush Limbaugh.

The Little Limbaugh's commentary is yet another diatribe from the ultra-right. It's filled with themes, images and words of doom, all designed to push the buttons and gaslight vulnerable white Americans into believing that everything they hold near and dear to their hearts is under attack from those disgraceful, godless, lefty, progressive Democrats.

I'm going to reproduce the Limbuagh piece in its entirety with my comments interspersed in red. 

The title of the article is: "Who Are the Real Bullies on Race?" 

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER ONE: Race is a button for all Americans regardless of their ideology, and "racist" is still considered one of the most damning accusations of our day. A constant theme in the battle against CRT for example is that it is nothing more than reverse racism, and that white people are actually the victims of it. Obviously the "real bullies on race" according to Limbaugh, are the not the people for whom this article was intended.

At the top of the piece as published in the ultra-right webiste, GOPUSA, is this image of the American flag, along with the text that surrounds it. 

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER TWO: Nothing arouses the sentiments (and other parts) of the ultra-right than the image of Old Glory flapping in the breeze. What it actually stands for is another thing.

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER THREE: The mere mention of Black Lives Matter, a loose collection of folks dedicated to promoting the idea that black lives are just as important as other people's lives, sends shivers up and down the spines of the ultra--right-white, who see them unjustifiably as a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of truth, justice and the American way.

Put these two buttons together and you have for some, the image of black terrorists destroying everything god-fearing white Americans value by golly.

Wow, three buttons already pushed and the article hasn't even started yet! 

OK here's Limbaugh's piece. Remember, he's in black, I'm in red (until otherwise noted):

As absurd, extreme and reckless as the American left has been on race, and despite growing public disapproval of their antics, they are doubling down rather than pulling back.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER ONE: Where exactly is the evidence that there is "growing public disapproval" of the American left's "antics" on the issue of race? I'll get to that in a minute.

On the Fourth of July, Utah’s Black Lives Matter chapter described the American flag as “a symbol of hatred.”

“When we Black Americans see this flag we know the person flying it is not safe to be around,” it declared. “When we see this flag we know the person flying it is a racist. When we see this flag we know that the person flying it lives in a different America than we do. When we see this flag, we question your intelligence. We know to avoid you. It is a symbol of hatred.”

OK here I have to push back on the comment that everyone who flies the American flag is a racist. That is an extreme opinion which I do not hold. Of course my opinion on this subject is understandable, I'm white not black.

The reality of the black experience in America is much different from the white experience. Not willing to accept that as Limbaugh clearly does not, is as good an argument for the teaching of CRT in our schools as any I can think of.

Here is what Jackie Robinson, today universally revered and referenced by both black and white Americans, quite unlike during his lifetime, had to say about the flag shortly before he died:

There I was, the black grandson of a slave, the son of a black sharecropper, part of a historic occasion, a symbolic hero to my people. The air was sparkling. The sunlight was warm. The band struck up the national anthem. The flag billowed in the wind. It should have been a glorious moment for me as the stirring words of the national anthem poured from the stands. Perhaps, it was, but then again, perhaps, the anthem could be called the theme song for a drama called The Noble Experiment. Today, as I look back on that opening game of my first World Series, I must tell you that it was Mr. Rickey’s drama and that I was only a principal actor. As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.

Lex Scott, the chapter’s founder, was hardly sorry when called out on the statement. “Ever since we put up the post, our page has been flooded with hatred from people who fly the flag,” said Scott. “And we want to thank those people for proving our point.” It seems that all flag-waving patriots are to be lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan, because according to Scott, the Klan “proudly” waves the flag at their rallies. I’m sure it would never occur to Scott that her categorical smear smacks of the same type of shameful mindset that drives racism.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER TWO:  The KKK is the ultimate symbol of white supremacy and abject evil in the United States and the image of its hooded members waving the American flag certainly is a powerful symbol to all Americans, especially black Americans. Again as he does so often in this piece, Limbaugh demonstrates his refusal to show even the slightest bit of empathy for his fellow Americans who happen to be black. Rather he turns the tables and again claims white victimhood as here he compares BLM to the KKK.

Scott’s statements are not representative of the left, you say? Well, how often have you heard a progressive condemn or even mildly criticize Black Lives Matter? Have you ever heard one criticize its Marxist roots? Aren’t you more likely to see leftists defending the organization and imploring us to understand its genuine grievances?

PUSHED BUTTON NUMBER FOUR: Ah that old bugaboo, Marxism!!! I'm guessing from the way this paragraph was written, Limbaugh is saying the "genuine grievances" of the group he labels as "Black Lives Matter" are dishonest, suspect and devious, i.e.: they're not really interested in civil rights and justice for black people as they say but rather only in turning this country into a totalitarian Marxist/Communist state.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER THREE: As for the left (or anyone for that matter) criticizing BLM, once again there is no one target group to criticize called Black Lives Matter, rather an amorphous collection of groups and individuals with different goals and agendas, all unified by the slogan, Black Lives Matter.  That slogan by the way is a favorite target of the ultra-right as they like to read into it as if it means the only lives that matter are black ones. 

That reading is willful ignorance, pure and simple as it has been stated time and again from people who embrace the slogan, that for centuries, and some would say even today, black lives quite literally have not mattered in this country. Refusal to accept this simple fact is yet another example for the need of an honest account of race to be a regular part of the curriculum in schools all over this country.

And yes, there is plenty to question and criticize members of the various BLM movements for such as the blanket statement that all people who fly the American flag are racists. I just did it above. 

It’s not just Black Lives Matter — not by a long shot. Pretty much the entire leftist freight train is steamrolling its way through our cultural, educational and media institutions — even our bar associations (Heavens to Betsy NO, NOT OUR BAR ASSOCIATIONS!!!) — not to stamp out actual racism but to ensure that it thrives, to force people to obsess on it as much as they do and to divide us as a people along racial lines.
GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER FOUR: No it's not the Trumplicans actively fighting to preserve monuments to the Confederacy, bending over backwards to deny minorities the right to vote, and fighting tooth and nail to deny that racism has been part and parcel of life in this country for centuries who are dividing the country along racial lines. It is the people who seek to give our children an honest reckoning of this nation's difficult history and "obsess" about issues like justice for all who are doing the dividing. 

That is one hundred percent unadulterated bullshit.  

A friend’s son was given an assignment in a university writing class requiring him, essentially, to explain why white people are privileged and bad. You can nitpick over my words, but you’ve surely heard similar stories. "You can nitpick over my words"??? In other words what he just said was at best an exaggeration, or at worst, made up. But be careful that you don’t confirm that you’ve heard of such experiences lest you be accused of “white fragility,” you know, the unwillingness to condemn yourself as a racist for what others may or may not have done, and your audacity in disputing the narrative. Just imagine being wrongly accused of one of the most egregious sins imaginable and lifting one of your pinkies in self-defense. How dare you!

This is the only honest part of the whole piece. Yes, any person who has issues with learning the truth about the past, especially if it paints one's ancestors in a bad light, suffers from fragility, regardless of their race, creed or color.  Funny, and I thought it was the Trumplicans who love to criticize the other side for being "snowflakes". 

The truth is, we all have much to learn. Confronting, challenging and correcting centuries' worth of mistakes and shortcomings including one's own racism (yes I'm as guilty as much as anyone), is part of being human and hopefully making oneself a better person. Who would have a problem with that? Well obviously David Limbaugh does. 

Consider a less anecdotal example. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten asserted that many GOP legislators “are bullying teachers (on the subject of race) and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.” She shared her views during a livestreamed conference billed as “How to Be an Antiracist.” This teacher’s union has some 1.7 million members, incidentally.

Illustrating her formidable skill at projection, she allowed that these Republicans might just be trying to “raise the temperature on race relations because of the next election.” Even more delusionally, she claimed that “culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as (critical race theory) to try to make it toxic” — as if conservatives launched the so-called culture wars, and as if we are the ones toxifying society through endless, fraudulent stereotypical racial smears.

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER FIVE: Interesting that the subject of projection comes up. If the Trumplicans are masters of anything, it's projection. Remember in one of the 2016 presidential debates when Hillary Clinton accused Donald Trump of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin? Trump might as well have said "I'm rubber and you're glue, what bounces off me sticks to you." What he actually said was "I'm not a puppet, you're a puppet." In fact virtually every charge he has ever leveled against someone during his public life was something he was clearly guilty of himself.  Here the Little Limbaugh as projector, is projecting projection. What do you call that. projection squared or cubed?

Apparently, Weingarten is outraged that 26 states — so far — have introduced bills or taken other action to limit or ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. She’s not alone. The National Education Association just passed a resolution to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.” The stated intent of the broader resolution — New Business Item 39 — is to share and publicize research that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.” Orwell was obviously a piker.

DISINGENUOUS LITERARY REFERENCE: Here Limbaugh is obviously referring to George Orwell's distopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four

Nineteen Eighty Four is famous in part for the terms the author coined for the novel, many of which have found their way into popular English lexicon. Terms such as "Unperson", "Thoughtpol" (short for Thought Police), "Newspeak", "Doublethink", "Memory Hole", and the most well known, "Big Brother", are all euphemisms describing chilling aspects of the totalitarian regime featured in the novel.

The impressive list of  "isms" and "archies" cited above by the NEA resolution does indeed contain a few doozies, (I had to look up cisheteropatriarchy), but they're all universally accepted terms describing various forms of power and discrimination, not words made up for effect or irony.

In a deeper sense, like comparisons to Hitler, claiming one's political adversary has totalitarian tendencies has become quite commonplace, sometimes to the point of irrelevance. To ultra-right pundits like the brothers Limbaugh, policies like universal healthcare, mask mandates during a pandemic, and specifically here, the idea that history be taught honestly from several points of view, not just the Eurocentric one, are all examples of progressive totalitarianism. 

To the other side, the exPOTUS's deference toward brutal dictators such as Erdogan, Putin and Kim Jung Un, his rejection of a free and by all accounts (except his) fair election which he lost decisively, and his executive order banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in the schools, can be said to be examples of totalitarianism of a different sort.    

Perhaps the most significant comparison of the exPOTUS's regime to the one in Orwell's novel, is its insistence that the one and only arbiter of the truth is the leader himself. Anything that contradicted the exPOTUS was in his words "fake news", a term that might rival Orwell's were it not so artless and unoriginal.  

It was the exPOTUS's minion, Kellyanne Conway, who early in the administration came up with the most Orwellian of terms when she told an interviewer who confronted her about her boss's famous penchant for lying: "well there are facts, and then there are 'alternate facts.'"

The NEA also allocated $56,500 to “research organizations attacking educators doing anti-racist work.” And they want to talk to us about bullying?

These progressive educators don’t think it’s appropriate for parents to stand up against teaching ideas euphemistically dressed up as “accurate history” even though poll after poll shows that a strong majority of Americans have a negative view of critical race theory?

GASLIGHTING EXAMPLE NUMBER SIX: OK this brings us back to the issue brought up before that there is "growing public disapproval" of the teaching of Critical Race Theory in this country. It shouldn't come as any surprise that polls have more Americans not liking CRT, as the issue has been harped upon incessantly by the ultra-right media, which is the only source of news for the vast majority of Trumplicans. By contrast, reputable media outlets (1) have put the issue on the back burner at best which is why the subject is off the radar for most of those who are not part of the cult of Trump. 

On another matter, really the crux of the whole debate, is do parents have the right to question and criticize what is being taught to our children? OF COURSE WE DO!!! That is what school boards, local school councils, the PTA, parent/teacher conferences and a slew of other resources available to parents are for, certainly NOT the state or federal government. The most valuable resource of all is the dinner table where parents and children have the opportunity to share the events of the day, on a personal, a local, and a global level. There is no learning experience greater than that. Too many of us, ourselves included, take these opportunities for granted. But shame on us, government is certainly not the institution that should be responsible for determining what our children learn and do not learn at school. That my friends is about as conservative value there is, what ever happened to those values by the way?. 

And now for the piece de resistance:

I’m old enough — actually, my kids are old enough — to remember when our society overwhelmingly embraced Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that all people be judged by the content of the character rather than the color of their skin. How far we’ve descended.

Don’t be bullied by those seeking to intimidate you with false charges of racism from standing up for your children, for accurate history and for promoting the laudatory goal of seeing and treating people of all races as individuals made in God’s image.





You can set your watch knowing that a Trumpilican writing about the issue of race will inevitably toss in the Martin Luther King Card. It's their way of saying "hey I'm not a racist, I think that (the long dead) Martin Luther King was a swell guy." 
I wrote about that very subject in this space a few years ago in a post called "Dead Icons." 

End of article, I'm back in black now.

The hard reality is that Dr. King and Jackie Robinson whom I mentioned above, were both despised during their lives, not only by lots of white people, but also by a number of their own people. Were they alive today, you can rest assured that would be no different. 

The only difference between MLK and BLM is that Dr. King was the more radical of the two.

Every year on the day we Americans celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, we are subjected to a feel good soundbite from his most famous speech where he dreams of the day when
...little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers...
It's all very comforting and kumbaya, especially when we hear how things have changed since then and King's words are accompanied by images of little black and white boys and girls doing just that. Then we hear from folks who hated his guts when he was alive publicly extolling his virtues, a safe fifty three years after his death, bygones being bygones. 

But we seldom hear the meat and potatoes of that speech like when he said this:
One hundred years (after the Emancipation Proclamation), the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.
Or this:
When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Today as we see hate speech and crimes against minorities on the increase, as we see the growing gap of prosperity between the poor and the rich, as we see the Supreme Court approving states chipping away bit by bit, pieces of the Voting Rights Act whose passage was in part inspired by that very speech, we realize 58 years later, that things have not changed as much as we thought they had in that time.

After the success of his "I Have a Dream Speech" culminating the "March for Jobs and Freedom" in Washington DC in August of 1963, then FBI Director J..Edgar Hoover dubbed King, the "Most Dangerous Negro in America." Hoover persuaded then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to wire tap King in hopes of gathering evidence that the Civil Rights Leader had ties to the Communist Party. 

The government could not find any such evidence (they did find other stuff of a personal nature to use against him). and King himself had often unequivocally renounced Communism  as being anathema to Christianity, 

However  King repeatedly stated his goal was not only civil justice for his people but more importantly a ​“total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.” 

"In a sense..." he said in an interview with the New York Times in 1968, " could say we are engaged in the class struggle.” 

In 1966 he said the following to a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Council: 
Something is wrong with capitalism, there must be a better distribution of wealth in the country. ​Maybe,... America must move toward a democratic socialism.
After all King would often say: "What good is being able to sit at a lunch counter if you can't afford a hamburger?" 

Commenting on the disparity between rich and poor in this country which has only widened since his death, King said this: 
We ​compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity.
The phony people who today profess their love for Dr. King, like to point out that he always advocated non-violence and would never have approved of the tactics of groups such as BLM, ANTIFA, and the diverse set of folks who took part in the urban riots that followed the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Jason Blake last summer. 

However, frustrated that his campaign to end poverty in America was falling upon deaf ears even amongst those who supported his civil rights efforts, shortly before his death Martin Luther King admitted in words that are shockingly relevant today given the events of the past year: 
Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena... They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.
One would think that to the mind of a Trumplican, these sound more like the words of Che Guevara than their newly anointed hero Martin Luther King.
But there you have it. King was every bit as much of a radical/socialist as anyone in BLM. So please Trumplicans, stop invoking his name to support your cause because he certainly wouldn't support it were he alive today. 

The ignorance that paints MLK in the words of writer Michael Harriot, " a meek, milquetoast orator who fits (the) narrative of the sweet, submissive hero begging for a seat at the table", rather than the "revolutionary willing to bleed and die for what he believed in" that he was, is yet further evidence of the need to educate our children properly.
My guess is that ultra-right wing writers like David Limbaugh are not ignorant of history. If my hunch is correct, by willfully promoting such ignorance among his readers, he and his ilk are doing this country a grave disservice.

In his address to Congress in support of the Voting Rights Bill of 1965, President Lyndon Johnson said the following:
This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome.  
With their opposition to raising the minimum wage to the level of a living wage, their fight against universal healthcare, their downplaying of a global pandemic and saving lives through vaccination, the Trumplicans have declared their undivided support of poverty and disease.

I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that they're now throwing all their weight behind ignorance as well. (2)
Maybe LBJ was wrong and at least some of our fellow men and women are indeed the enemy. 


(1) This comment begs the question, what is a reputable news source? In my opinion it has nothing to do with bias, there are reputable sources of all stripes, right, center and left. What separates reputable from disreputable journalism is the willingness, or not, to present both sides of a story, to get the facts right as best you can and most important, when you don't get them right, to correct it. Yes it's that simple.

(2) I'd like to thank my friend Stefan Kwiatkowski for helping me finish off this piece with the LBJ quote and those timely thoughts.