Close to You (Donnie’s Song) | Bob Shepherd


with apologies to Hal David, Burt Bacharach, and The Carpenters

Why do toadies
suddenly appear
to take your part
and kiss your rear?
Putin has the dirt
to ensure they don’t desert
and stay close to you.

Why does Mitch,
like Pence’s fly,
stick like glue to
your every lie?
To please his base, the rubes,
he’ll sell the country down the tubes
to be close to you.

On the day that you were born, the demons got together
and they larded you with vanity and vice.
Now no matter how extreme the cost,
you won’t accept you’ve really lost.
You’re lice
on rice.

Why should the ghost of Lady Lindsay
froth like Ghouliani in a frenzy?
Something’s very strange
that he’s acting so deranged
to stay close to you.

[music fades here through end of song]

Though you’ve lied and conned and gimmicked
and you’ve failed with the pandemic,
they’ll stay close to you.

Just to follow you around,
Democracy they’d drown
to stay close to you.

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con) | 7 Comments

Film, Propaganda, and the Human Condition

Almost everyone hated high school. Why? Well, at that age, kids are busy trying, with the limited resources they have, given their youth and inexperience, to separate from their parents and to figure out or to create who they are, as independent creatures. Doing this is really difficult. High-schoolers are, after all, still kids, though in almost-adult bodies, which is confusing enough in itself. The sociologist Erik Erikson called this period in people’s lives the Identity Stage, and what kids go through at that age the Identity Crisis. According to Erikson, this life stage begins at about 12 years (middle school) and continues through about the age of 18 (the end of high school).

So, in middle school and high school, kids are still amorphous, though they want to be greatness chiseled in stone, and they are often mean to one another because this makes them feel better in comparison. The Germans have a name for this. They call it Schadenfreude. The folksinger Arlo Guthrie makes fun of this tendency among people in his Alice’s Restaurant, in which he invites his audience to think about someone who is worse off and then to think of the person who is worse off than that guy and then to think about The Last Guy, the one who has no one for whom he or she might feel schadenfreude, whom he or she might feel better than. Here’s what playwright Oscar Wilde said about Schadenfreude: after the successful opening of one of his plays, there was an after party. When Wilde entered the room, everyone turned and clapped. Wilde told them that he was moved to tears because “Anybody can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathize with a friend’s success.” In other words, the professional cynic (scratch a cynic and you find a Romantic) Mr. Wilde believed that people would rather see you fail because they can then feel better about themselves in comparison. Humor typically works because it touches on and treats lightly something difficult or disturbing. In our time, an academic industry has sprung up in happiness studies. One thing that these researchers have discovered is that people’s happiness about their own success has very little relation to their absolute success but, rather, their success relative to those whom they know and associate with. Yeah, but my car is nicer than his is.

So, the middle- and high-school kids engage in Schadenfreude. I may not be the prettiest or the smartest or the most talented or the sexist or the most athletic, but that person is worse off. The Stephen King film Carrie, in which the title character takes revenge on her cruel classmates (there is an entire genre of such films) is basically what people would now recognize as being indistinguishable from a film about a high-school shooter, except that the main character is, shockingly, the one the audience is rooting for and approves of. Everyone else, just about, gets slaughtered, but from the audience POV, they had it coming.

Films are excellent propaganda vehicles because the POV and emotions of the audience are so easily manipulable by filmmakers. This is why both Lenin and Hitler, among their first official acts, established film studios. Lenin had Sergei Eisenstein to make propaganda films like The Battleship Potemkin and October. Hitler had Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl to make films like Triumph of the Will, with Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels (recently reincarnated as Stephen Miller, Propaganda Minister of the Don the Con misadministration) to write the script and architect Albert Speer to stage it. An excellent book could be written about why, exactly, audiences are so easily manipulatable by films, but this essay is not that book.

The Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci brilliantly exploited this propagandistic power of film in his movie 1900, which opens with an elderly man and woman being chased by a mob wielding pitchforks and scythes. The audience is aghast at the mob and rooting for the old people to escape. At the end of the film, the exact same scene is repeated, but the audience has seen the old couple being horrible—being collaborators with the Nazis—and this time the audience roots not for the elderly couple but for the mob.

Control of POV is the most powerful tool in the filmmaker’s toolkit. One of the beauties of film (and of first-person or limited third-person narratives generally) is that it can extend human sympathies by enabling us to see through the eyes of a character different from the viewer. That’s why a film like El Norte can powerfully move an audience to care about asylum-seeking refuges and why something like the television program Will and Grace probably did more to advance the cause of LGBTQX rights in the United States than did all the Act Up pride events, as awesome as those were, ever staged. However, this power that the film auteur has to manipulate audiences by controlling their POV has its dark side. The POV presented can be that of a truly horrible person—a Hitler, for example, or a Trump. Consider, for example, the jingoistic nationalistic “patriotism” of the Marvel Comic Universe films, ideal for molding children into the next generation of cannon fodder, or the satire of the same in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. The United States today, under Trump, and yesterday, under Bush, Jr., is so inclined toward fascist ways of thinking that many U.S. viewers of Verhoeven’s film don’t even get that it is a satire.

All of which raises an interesting issue. Our basic ontological situation in this life is that my mind is over here and your mind is over there, and we do not see the world from the Other’s POV. However, all the most beautiful things that people do—teaching, mentoring, nurturing children, conversing, negotiating agreements, making love, creating art (such as writing essays)—is about bridging that ontological gap.

Years ago, I wrote a short story about an alien race, from a water world, called the Oosmoolie. In the story, the Oosmoolie stumble upon another water world that used to be called Earth and slowly piece together the fact that the planet was once inhabited by intelligent land creatures who destroyed their world via climate change. In the story, the Oosmoolie are tentacled, octopus-like creatures who can attach tentacles and thereby join their nervous systems with one another and directly experience the Other’s subjective states or, rather, a melding of those states. I was surprised when I saw the director James Cameron had borrowed this idea for his blue alien creatures in the film Avatar and wondered whether he had read my short story in a textbook when he was younger.

I suspect that we would all be better off if we had the capability of the Oosmoolie, though at first, experiencing what people are ACTUALLY feeling and thinking and experiencing might be pretty frightening. This would be like the ultimate Panopticon.

Years ago, I started dating a woman who told me that she hated actors because they were so phony, which was a problem because, well, I had spent years as an actor. But I thought she had it all wrong. As Stanislavski and Uta Hagen and others of the Method Acting school taught, acting well is all about taking on the person of another, about Being someone else rather than about playing at or pretending to be someone else. So, acting well should extend the range of one’s human sympathies.

Copyright 2020. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd about film, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/film/

For more pieces on Don the Con, aka Vlad’s Agent Orange, aka the Moronavirus trumpinski orangii, aka the Don, Cheeto “Little Fingers” Trumpbalone, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

Posted in Film | Leave a comment

American Kakistocracy: Rule by the Most Ignorant

Can we survive the likes of Trump?

How well I remember Sarah Palin giving a speech, very shortly after she was chosen as McCain’s running mate, in which she laughed and sneered, outraged, that the government had spent some x amount of dollars studying fruit flies. “Fruit flies!” she exclaimed, as though this were the most insane thing one could imagine.

Of course, this profoundly ignorant person had no idea that much of our understanding of genetics and of genetic disease comes from studies using Drosophila melanogaster. I laughed and laughed that she didn’t know the science she might have learned from a third grader’s Scholastic Weekly Reader. Such profound ignorance. But then, horrified, I saw John McCain pick up the same talking point the week following, and I thought: well, here we are. We are on the cusp of the most significant change in the history of life on Earth, when we eliminate genetic disease and then people start taking evolution into their own hands and it becomes, for the first time, TELEOLOGICAL (purposefully engineered/directed by us). The consequences of the latter will be profound beyond any current reckoning. It changes the basic rules that have always held.

And this is happening at a time when our politicians, at the highest levels, don’t know even the most basic science.

All this was prelude to Donald Trump, the self-proclaimed “stable genius” who thinks that we should nuke hurricanes, that climate change is just weather, that we could send astronauts to the sun, that Alabama is in danger from hurricanes skirting the East Coast, that windmills and low-energy light bulbs cause cancer, that stealth planes are actually invisible, that a dementia diagnostic is a test of general intelligence, that we need to return to using asbestos in our buildings, that HIV and HPV are the same thing, that the primary cause of California wildfires is failure to sweep our forests, that coal and natural gas are “clean energy,” that “the ice caps” are “at a record level,” that global warming is a hoax invented to reduce U.S. competitiveness with China, that we are better off without federal regulation of pollutants of air and water, that Denmark would be happy to sell Greenland to us, that exercise needs to be avoided because it uses up energy, and that injecting disinfectant might be a great way to treat Covid19. But remember that Trump has told us that “nobody knows technology like Donald Trump,” and that he is on top of “the cyber.”

So, this raises a question: Why do Americans elect to high office such ignorant people? the Sarah Palins and Matt Gaetzes and Donald Trumps among us? In dramatic contrast, I read a speech, last year, by Putin in which he talked intelligently, at length, about genetic engineering.

And that raises another question: can we survive this tendency to elect the profoundly ignorant?
Posted in Technology, Trump (Don the Con) | 4 Comments

The 2020 Repugnican National Convention

 

Good evening, and welcome to the 2020 Repugnican Convention. But first, a word from our sponsors, Vladimir Putin and Goya Beans.

We are brought together this evening to show that it can happen here in America. This is not about politics. This is about a man. Donald “J. for Jabba” the Trump, Dear Leader Who Shines More Orange than the Sun. Because as all real Americans agree, what matters, what really matters, the only thing that matters, is Trump.

An inspiration to us all, Donald Trump has shown, by the life he has led, that in America, one can rise above adversity. If you just pay someone to take your SAT and go to work for Daddy keeping black people out of your slum landlord apartments, if you just inherit three quarters of a billion dollars from Daddy and blow it all on parties at Jeffrey’s and on casinos designed to rip off ordinary people, and if you go bankrupt through sheer incompetence, you can dig deep and launder money for Russian kleptocrats and start a fake university and pretend to be a businessman on TV, you can appeal to the worst instincts of the most racist Americans, and emerge a winner. You can put your semi-conscious spawn in high office, you can surround yourself with people dedicated to destroying the agencies and departments they lead, you can alienate and abandon every ally, you can pander and genuflect to dictators, you can betray our troops and those who fought alongside them, you can wreck the environment, you can take lunches away from poor school children, you can pretend to be a Christian, you can praise Nazis, you can pay off porn stars, you can take from the poor and give to the rich, you can do nothing about a pandemic that kills 180,000 Americans except suggest fake cures like injecting disinfectants—you do all this and so much, much more, and not lose a single vote.

We’ve got quite a lineup for you over the next few days. Bill Barr will play taps on the bagpipes over the remaining shreds of the U.S. Constitution. Don Jr. and Eric will take us inside the tackiest club in the universe, Mar-a-lago, to show us their collection of tails they’ve cut off endangered animals they’ve serially slaughtered. We’ll have an inspiring torchlight parade of Aryan Skinheads for Trump. We’ll honor the Confederate leaders who massacred African-American soldiers while fighting for the right of people to own others. We’ll make fun of disabled people and talk about ourselves and how great we are to grieving widows of fallen soldiers. We’ll hear President Trump speak in his inimitable Toddler English about the importance of family and his many wives and those he’s groped and what great legs and other body parts his daughter has. We’ll have a roundtable on law and order featuring the convicted and indicted felons from the Trump administration. We’ll gas some Moms in yellow shirts who still think that they have the freedom to assemble and to exercise free speech in America. But first, a word from the My Pillow Guy about the magic cure for Covid, oleander, and important information from the Demon Seed Doc about protecting yourself from succubi.

MAGA! Moscow’s Agent Governing America, Vlad’s Agent Orange. Make America Grate Again!

Trump/Dense 2020. 20 for sexual assault. 20 for bank and insurance fraud.

For more pieces about the Trump maladministration, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

For more humor by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/humor/

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con) | 5 Comments

Betsy DeVos Assures the Nation that Standardized Testing Will Go Forward in the 2020-21 School Year Despite the Pandemic

Since January 20, 2017, when Donald Trump took the oath to serve his handlers in Moscow by sowing discord in the United States and undermining all U.S. federal government functions, we’ve been able to count on him. Sure, we’ve had disastrous presidents in the past, but none, arguably, has delivered as Donald has (as he endlessly reminds us). Every day, it’s another outrage. I know that I am joined by millions of Americans who get up each morning thinking, what sickness will he perpetrate today? Who or what will be its targets? Gays? Poor kids? Dreamers? Farmers and small business people? Endangered species? Which ally will he completely alienate next, what murderous dictator fete in his Offal Office? So exciting!
Think of his recent hits: secret police in American cities, insisting that we reopen schools fully in the middle of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths, completely gutting federal environmental regulations. Wow. And recently he’s signaled that he plans to use an Executive Order to ensure that we’ll never again have poor immigrants with little education come to these shores to fulfill their dreams, thus undermining a key promise of the American Experiment. Who knows. Maybe the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty could read, “Give us your ravenous, rich white people yearning to exploit.” The hits just keep coming, which is pretty amazing given that he’s usually on Executive Time, playing golf or in his den eating cheeseburgers, watching Hannity, and tweeting hate in his inimitable Toddler English.
Take a moment and think of how perfectly Vlad’s Agent Orange, Moscow’s Asset Governing America (MAGA) embodies each of the seven deadly sins—pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Gosh, Mr. President. You really are the best! Person, man, woman, camera, TV! Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing!
Of course, it’s too much to expect that lesser villains serving in his maladministration would be able to equal the Master of Mayhem. There can be only one Don the Con, only one Donald “J for the Joker in the Orange Clown Makeup” the Trump. But Ditzy DeVoid, bless her tiny, walnut heart, is doing her best. She’s made things safe for predatory colleges and for rapists on campus, and here we have her imprimatur on invalid, abusive, breathtakingly expensive, curriculum-devolving, pedagogically useless standardized testing numerology! Heckuvajob, Ditzy!
Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | Leave a comment

Forget Me Not

for Diane Ravitch

If a fairy tale begins with a prohibition, you know it’s going to be broken .

The Word was charged anew with the grandeur of Gerald
Hopkins’s bold bald conjugal rhythms that sprang so
springingly sprung across the page and marveling mind
like one of those flowers–noli me tangere—that blows then bursts
raining, dappled, down such confettilike windfall seedpod
images that one might drown in their festive falling,
so scattering round about in lambent Monet-made lily-light
as to make one wonder, bebrindled, seduced, fallen again,
whether to win such a world were worth the fell first fall
after all. Our first father’s, mother’s Eden lost to gain
another. If this be sin, go and sin some more, beautiful brother.

Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved. For more poetry by Bob  Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/poetry/

Posted in Poetry, Teaching Literature and Writing | Leave a comment

The President Defends Himself against Accusations of Being a Dog

On Vlad’s Agent Orange (Moscow’s Asset Governing America, MAGA)

A suggestion for Family Guy episode in which the dog, Brian, assumes the name Donald, then runs for and is elected to the office of President of the United States.

PRESIDENT: The Democrats, they have been after me over the Doggie Don hoax since before the election. The whole investigation, a hoax. Disgraceful.

REPORTER: But Mr. President, during the campaign, didn’t you say, “Petsmart, if you’re listening, send me a pallet of nice chewy Milkbone biscuits?”

PRESIDENT: I was obviously joking, OK?

REPORTER: And didn’t you sniff all the butts at the G7 meeting in Biarritz? If you are, in fact, a dog, you clearly cannot continue to be President of the United States.

PRESIDENT: What can I say? I’m friendly. In fact, I’m the friendliest. The friendliest President ever. But, you see, I’m also very, very smart. My uncle was a supergenius at MIT. The things I could tell you about those people. Not like Obama, who was clueless.

REPORTER: And you bury what’s left over from your meals in holes you dig on the White House lawn?

PRESIDENT: Economy. The waste before I came into office! Best economy ever.

REPORTER: Uh, Mr. President, you walk around the White House on all fours. You howl out the windows. You scratch at the door to be let out to pee. You lift your leg to do so. You stick your tongue out and pant. You are covered with fur. You have a wet nose. Your ears hang to your shoulders. You have paws and a tail. All this seems distinctively doglike.

PRESIDENT: You people. All you do is pick and pick and pick. Trying to turn up something against me. Fake news. Once, just once, I would like to hear one of you people say, would you like me to scratch your tummy?

REPORTER: OK. Let’s get one thing settled. Did you chew up the sofas in the Lincoln bedroom?

PRESIDENT: Fake news.

REPORTER: But there was fur like yours all over the floor.

PRESIDENT: OK. Go ahead, make personal attacks. Yes, I’m a bit more hirsute that most. Satisfied? But who says this was mine? Ask Kayleigh, she’ll tell you. Or Fido, my new Director of National Intelligence. Absolutely no evidence this was my fur. They made it all up.

REPORTER: But Mr. President, people don’t have fur. Never mind. OK. Would you be willing to submit a sample of your fur for DNA analysis?

PRESIDENT: Sorry, I’m under contract for grooming, uh, hair cutting. Toss the stick.

REPORTER: The stick?

PRESIDENT: That stick, over there. You throw it. I run and grab it and bring it back to you.

REPORTER: Uh, OK. Hey, this is fun.

PRESIDENT: You know, I’m looking for a new Press Secretary.

 

Copyright 2020. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For more pieces about the Trump maladministration, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/trump-don-the-con/

For more humor by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/humor/

For short stories by Bob Shepherd (and some pieces about fictions and fiction writing), go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/short-stories/

Posted in Humor, Trump (Don the Con), Uncategorized | 3 Comments

America Is Burning, by Diane Ravitch

I haven’t seen it said better:

America Is Burning

Posted in Trump (Don the Con) | 13 Comments

The Promise of Ed Tech

Ed tech companies are, of course, trying to take advantage of the pandemic to sell politicians and administrators on replacing teachers with educational technology. So, thought I would try my hand at writing some ad copy for these companies:
Help your students go the distance with distance technology!!!!! With our Remote Learning Software, there’s a remote chance that they will be learning!
These are difficult times for educators, and that’s why we at Bob’s Ultimate Lesson Learning Software [with] Hyper Individualized Technology (B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.) are stepping up and offering our product to schools ABSOLUTELY FREE.* Our proprietary Deep Do Diagnostic Engine uses HIGHLY COMPLEX, CUTTING EDGE QUANTUM-MECHANICAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE ALGORITHMS to PERSONALIZE INSTRUCTION and tell you exactly where your students stand compared to kids in other schools and countries, what lessons are right for them given their level of mastery, what they should eat for breakfast, their level of socio-emotional development, how many children and parking tickets they will have as adults, how many jobs they will have over their lifetimes, what they will earn in the year 2046, whether their energy fields and chakras are properly aligned, what psychological disorders they will develop in the future, what tax preparer they will prefer at age 50, the meaning of life, what existed before the Big Bang, who the next big TicTok star will be, when the oil in the students’ parents’ cars needs changing. You name it. Math skills? Reading skills? Innate intelligence? Gritfulness? Propensity for psychopathy and a career with an equity or consulting firm? THERE IS NOTHING THAT OUR DIAGNOSTIC ISN’T ABLE TO DETERMINE with complete RIGOR, providing you with actionable—wait for it!!!!–yes!!!–DATA. Data. Oh, data. Oh. Yes, yes, yes. Which is, of course, what school is all about!!! How are we able to do this is a bit complicated to explain (it’s very mathematical and you wouldn’t be able to understand) but suffice it to say that with our Educator Proof ™ software, teachers are ABSOLUTELY UNNECESSARY!
And, check out our add-in packages that cook dinner, walk the dog, solve international crises, and navigate long, dark nights of the soul! Too good to be true? Well, step into the HYPE VORTEX and see for yourself!
B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T. Now with personalizable student avatars! So much fun, your students will prefer this to having their flesh removed from their bodies with curry combs! Speaking of which, we’re the Common Core-iest! No one cores students as we do!!!
*after billed monthly server time hours and fees for onboarding, roster maintenance, reporting, professional development, documentation fees, administrative fees, student data updating fees. Promotion good only for basic INTRODUCTORY package consisting of an abacus and clay tablet.
Posted in Ed Reform, Humor, Teaching Literature and Writing, Technology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Your Guide to Surviving Lockdown

Lockdown at home is hard for anyone. That’s why I’ve prepared these tips to make it gas.
  1. Paint a face on a basketball and have dinner with it.
  2. Join a deranged online community like QAnon. It’s full of people who have been living alone in the basement for years.
  3. Teach yourself a new skill like computer hacking.
  4. Just remember that though you can’t get out and mingle anymore, there are still plenty of people out there who never particularly cared to have you around anyway.
  5. During this pandemic, many people are discovering the joys of baking. If you can find flour (good luck!) try making cookies in the shapes of the Beatles or, if you are really ambitious, Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles.
  6. OK. Yes. Sex is an issue. Now that you are stuck inside, you can only have it with the partner stuck inside with you. Cosplay is a great answer to this. For example, one of you can dress up as Stormy Daniels and the other as Donald Trump. Then, you can try to find Donald Trump’s weenie. If you don’t have a partner, what kind of loser are you?
  7. When families are confined indoors together, disagreements sometimes arise over responsibilities for online chores, so establish a schedule for these. For example, if you have two children, Karen and Tad, you can have Karen take on all parental responsibilities on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and Tad take on all these responsibilities on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. That way, you can stay in bed until this is all over.
  8. If working remotely gets to be a drag on your psychic space, free up some time by simply cutting and pasting old email responses instead of writing new ones from scratch. Example:

    • Query: Will you have the report ready for the Zoom meeting Monday at 9:00 AM?
    • Answer: That would be product skew ZX-193A.
Hope this helps! You’re welcome!
Posted in Humor, Uncategorized | Leave a comment