Monday, January 7, 2008


("Possum Dreaming" by Bill Harney)

This weekend the commercials for late-night TV were dominated by reminders that the "Fine Art Liquidators Sales" was happened at the Embassy Suites, all paintings done in oil by hand, nothing over $59, a huge stock that were "sofa-sized" and compatible with the colors of your decor. Some as low at $7. Hurry on over.

The same weekend that American Gladiators was brought back to help fill in the gap while real writers and real television hold out for pennies. I'll confess, I used to watch American Gladiators back in its earlier inception, when I spent years trying to recover from a devastating break-up and I was so depressed I also got hooked on Party of Five. (Bailey: I was mind-melded with Bailey the Classic Codependent.) I noticed from the commercials that one of the new gladiators is named Mayhem. I'm willing to bet that there's only two dozen or so people in the viewing audience who know that the official meaning of mayhem is "the offense of willfully maiming or crippling a person" -- as in murder and mayhem. Something to aspire to, apparently.

And Huckabeast cleans up the first Republican primary. Plus -- lots of personal thangs going on here that make my life harder than I thought I could share. Until Martha proved me wrong.

Actually, the Huckabeast victory is mixed news. Bad in that anyone who voted for him likely has mental grounds for disenfranchisement, but since he's anathema to the Rethug establishment, there's blood in the water now at their camp and, well, have you read about hyenas during a battle becoming so attack-crazed that they'll chew at their own exposed entrails? Yeah, like that.

So, I could talk about how the devaluation and commodification of "art" has diminished our cultural, making political connections keep and witty. But instead, I want to talk about possums.

First of all, I'm not going to put that "o" at the beginning. They're possums.

I know a lot of people seem to find them repulsive. I've had a few encounters with them, once startling one so badly it fell backwards into a faint, and I feel only sadness for them. It seems clear that in the evolutionary order of things, they are mostly here to (a) eat bugs or carrion and (b) be meat for somewhat bigger animals. They are endowed with slow metabolisms and little brains -- one source says possums "may have the smallest brain-to-body ratio among mammals". Its main defense is feigning death, which is not volitional on their part; it appears to be an involuntary nervous collapse triggered by terror. Playing possum described as "a near coma, which can last up to four hours. It lies on its side, mouth and eyes open, tongue hanging out, emitting both a green fluid from its anus and an odor putrid to most predators. Besides discouraging animals who eat live prey, playing possum also convinces some large animals that the opossum is no threat to their young."

But it's no defense against the threats presented by human beings.

Aside from being North America's only marsupial, possums are distinctive for having bifurcate penises and vaginas (penii and vaginii?) I could only find a decent image of the penis, you'll just have to imagine the vagina. Reminds me of that old joke about the guy who had five penises. His pants fit him like a glove.
[(a) Clasper of dogfish (Squalus). Glans penis of (b) opossum, (c) ram, (d) bull, (e) short-tailed shrew, (f) man, (g) Echidna.]

A few years ago, I read about a fascinating study done on the life span of possums, and that's what comes to my mind when I hear the name. They tend to die during the first year of life, and a 2-year-old possum has reached extreme longevity. Twenty years ago, scientist and author Steven N. Austad "trapped healthy 18-month-old opossums, then trapped them again just a few months later, and found them lame, half blind, balding, and full of parasites. Austad decided that opossums age and breed relatively quickly because they are easy targets for predators." In his 1997 book Why We Age: What Science Is Discovering about the Body's Journey Through Life, Austad wrote "“If a predator is likely to kill you in the next few weeks or months, it makes little sense to waste resources on a long-lasting, effective immune system or an array of free-radical defenses. It is better evolutionarily to reproduce copiously, and the sooner the better.”

Planned obsolescence, in other words.

To test this theory, Austad tracked down possums who lived on some of the Georgia Sea Islands, where there are few or no natural predators and, significantly, often no vehicles. Sure enough, these Paradise Island possums lived 50% longer, had second breeding seasons with smaller litters, and their overall health was much, much better. They were happy, unstressed possums.

Austad carried these findings back to his consideration of humans. "Austad ascribes our anomalous longevity to the low-risk environment we have created for ourselves. Human beings live twice as long as captive chimpanzees, he notes, despite the fact that the two species share 99 percent of their genes: 'I think the key has been our social system—our mutual means of support and our ability to manipulate the environment.'"

Ah, yes, our mutual means of support. This should be our greatest gift to earth, don't you think?

Instead, I see the quote from Gunner Dick about how the tortured, permanent prisoners at Guantánamo "have everything they could want -- they're living in the tropics". Perhaps his envy of them is why he's building his prosecution-proof bolthole in Paraguay. Sarcasm aside, last month I signed the petition started by Representative Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, calling for impeachment hearings against Cheney. I think impeachment is something we as a nation are lusting for in our hearts, and it would do us all good to see it "on the table" and proceeding apace. As a result of my signing the petition, I received the following e-mail from Rep. Wexler:

"As we prepare to celebrate the New Year, my resolution is to hold George Bush and Dick Cheney accountable for their abuses of power.

In the last days, we have made real progress:

The mainstream media has awakened to this movement and to the extraordinary support you have given it. Your calls, letters, and emails have clearly made a difference. Already 140,000 people have joined us in demanding impeachment hearings for Vice President Dick Cheney by signing up at

The power of these combined voices are already shaking up the established order on Capitol Hill and throughout the mainstream media:

This week, the Miami Herald printed an article on our efforts that was syndicated in papers across the country, including the Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, Fort Worth Telegram, Contra Costa Times, Sacramento Bee, Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, NC News & Observer, and others. (Click
HERE to read the article.)

In addition, CBS4 in Miami became the first station we know of to run a television segment about the call for hearings. (Video of that can be found

Perhaps most importantly, just this morning the Philadelphia Inquirer courageously ran the full editorial I drafted along with my fellow Judiciary Committee members Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (R-WI). (View it
HERE .) Congratulations to the Inquirer for their willingness to publish a viewpoint that is so widely held by Americans – yet one that other leading national newspapers refused to publish.

We have come so far in just a few weeks. No longer can the mainstream media ignore our efforts and dismiss this cause as only part of the fringe left.

Already we are seeing tangible results from our combined effort. As you already know, Congress is well behind the American people on this issue. This is an uphill battle, but it's one that has to be fought. It should not be the whole agenda, but it needs be *on* the agenda.

When Congress reconvenes in January, I plan to present a list to my Judiciary Committee colleagues of every single person that signed up at I will go to more of my colleagues and ask them to join a letter in support of hearings. We will build on the momentum you have given us.

Last week, I spent an hour on Blog Talk Radio outlining thoughts and answering questions in regards to this work. So many people hit their site that their servers temporarily went down. If you'd like to hear the archived audio, please click

Let's do our best to further spread the message so that list will be up to a quarter million. Please continue to blog, email friends, and insist that your family and friends sign up!

Thanks for your commitment.

Congressman Robert Wexler

P.S. I have been running online ads to make more people aware of our impeachment campaign. If you are interested in making a contribution to this effort you can
click here."

The best way out of stress is to take power, take action, and foster systems of "mutual support". We're not possums. Feigning death, idolizing mayhem or looking for sofa-sized art really isn't working for us. Claro.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

Hey! The same art sale was taking place here in Southeastern Michigan too! On the same weekend!