On Charlie Sykes, “right to work” in Wisconsin, and the will to power

rally DeVriesAFL-CIO union president Phil Neuenfeldt speaks at a rally Wednesday at the Wisconsin state Capitol, the second day of protests against the Republican-led legislature effort to fast-track a controversial “right to work” bill in Wisconsin. NOTE: Another protest rally at the Capitol building is scheduled for noon, Saturday, Feb. 28., as is public testimony to the labor committee. Photo by Mike DeVries, courtesy of The Capital Times. Here’ s a link with a photo essay on the protest:http://host.madison.com/gallery/news/local/govt-and-politics/photos-wednesday-s-right-to-work-rally-at-capitol/collection_1476aa0a-bd31-11e4-8575-5fe1191072e7.html#0

The subject of this blog is power. But the first thing to understand about the protest rally I attended on Tuesday at Wisconsin’s State Capitol in Madison — against the fast-tracking of a “right to work” bill for Wisconsin law — is that this was no gathering of leftist agitators.

The day before the rally, Milwaukee ultra-conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes referred to the people he imagined assembling as “Unionistas,” implying militant Communist plotting, a typical and dated political fear-mongering.

I must comment on Sykes because he is so influential among Wisconsin conservatives and “Tea Party” members and anyone who feeds off his highly rated WTMJ program.

Talk about power. He broadcasts on the most powerful radio station in the state, by far. Fully aware that right-wing politics feeds off talk radio, radical Governor Scott Walker has a constant direct line to Sykes’ program.


Popular ultra-conservative Milwaukee radio talk show host Charlie Sykes also gets his share of speaking engagements. Photo courtesy courtesy bizjournal.com

I recall the governor’s current radio mouthpiece when I worked with him for The Milwaukee Journal  in the 1980s. Then a cityside reporter, Charlie Sykes would walk around the newsroom with a curiously remote air. He never spoke to me, or to very many fellow reporters that I ever noticed. He just seemed a little odd to me, and this was before I had any notion of his political views.

Now I interpret his newsroom manner as an imperious sense of superiority, and perhaps a sense of political alienation because — although professional print journalists work hard to be objective reporters — most reporters’ personal politics tend to be centrist or liberal leaning.

However, another former Journal colleague who knows Sykes and claims to be friends with him is Joel McNally, the affable and left-leaning writer with the infectious giggle. Back then, Joel was a newsroom star, writing a popular satirical column for The Journal, often about political matters. 2.

McNally commented a few years ago about his friend Sykes, regarding one of his programs that seemed to promote racial hatred:

“There’s nothing satirical about promoting racial hatred,” McNally wrote in The Shepherd Express for which he now does a weekly column. “I’ve written a lot of satire. You create satire by pretending to adopt a point of view you disagree with and promoting it with such exaggerated, ridiculous arguments that the whole idea is exposed as absurd.

“Sykes and his mean-spirited audience do not think the idea of poor inner city blacks living it up while ripping off taxpayers is absurd. That’s actually one of the basic premises of his show.” 3.

Sykes claims that covering some of the urban problems in Milwaukee changed his own politics because he perceived that liberal “welfare state” solutions were untenable. He apparently did a black-and-white ideological flip-flop —  if he was ever a liberal at all. Before too long, he left the newspaper.

It’s been a long time since he’s been a legitimate journalist, in the traditional sense, of serving the public interest with information they can use to make up their minds about a news story or a political development. His program thrives on his right-wing assumptions and biases, just as liberal talk programs do on theirs, to some degree. But none of those are really heard in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, Sykes’ morning show is so often sadly under-informed and under-reported, or selectively informed at best. He operates in relationship to a reality that’s not much more connected than Rush Limbaugh’s to that of an ordinary working or working-poor Milwaukeean, or American. Unless most of their information comes from such radio talk.

protest crowd

The crowd gathered at the Wisconsin Capitol Tuesday to protest the fast-tracking of a “right to work” bill. Another protest was held Wednesday.

Now, to the “right to work” bill protest I witnessed Tuesday. Contrary to Sykes’ glib characterization, the spirit of this event was as patriotic and American as God and country, mother and Apple Pie. Laborers of many different trade unions, some in hard hats, filled the crowd. A group of machinists did their own march around the capital to protest the right-to-work bill (see photo).

2015-02-24 00.33.51

The program began with emcee Phil Neuenfeldt, Wisconsin’s AFL-CIO president, leading the crowd in The Pledge of Allegiance. Then the Solidarity Singers sang “The Star-Spangled Banner. “ our national anthem. Neuenfeldt then asked a priest, Father Jim Murphy, to give an invocation, which was a prayer for the gathering.

Several big American flags flapped in the icy wind, along with various union flags, amid the thicket of protest signs. People in the Tea Party, and politicians who cater to them, like to wrap themselves in the American flag and think their extreme aversion and often paranoia about government is what America is about.

This gathering at our state capital was what America is about. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of Wisconsin, reprised a refrain he used several years ago for the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered here in the summer of 2011 for protests of Gov. Walker’s Act 10 destruction of public sector union bargaining rights.

“We know what democracy looks like, right?” Mitchell called out to the crowd.

“ Democracy looks like this!” the multitude roared in massive and hearty unison on this cold but sunny and crystal-clear February afternoon.

Mitchell was one of a number of eloquent speakers, all associated with Wisconsin unions.

But Neuenfeldt summed the situation up quite well in his opening remarks:

“Right to work in Wisconsin is not the Wisconsin way. This bill is an attack on all Wisconsin families, an attack on our paychecks. It’s an attack on our ability to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. And it’s an attack on our rights as workers.”

“We know it’s out of state special interests pushing this bill.  They want power.

“They don’t care if you had a good job or decent benefits or can afford to spend your kids to college. What they want is more profits and they want to do it on the backs of workers.

“We know, and history teaches us, that a strong union movement builds the middle class and raises all boats. There is nothing more American than workers coming together, through their unions, to stick together. That’s what we’re doing here today, coming together to have each other’s backs, right?

“Unions lead to better trained workers, a safer workplace, and a strong stable middle-class.”

The word that sticks with me amid all this well-put, all-American common sense is the word power.

Neuenfeldt addressed the Republican power issue: “We didn’t send our elected officials to Madison to rush through a bill, to limit the public debates, in an extraordinary way, on important economic issues. We sent them to Madison to make sure every person in Wisconsin has a chance at the American Dream. Not to rush through a bill in an undemocratic way. Right-to-work will put downward pressure on our entire economy.”

The fast tracking of the bill, employs the same strategy used in at least two neighboring Midwestern states which are now “right to work.” The governor’s stated philosophy is “divide and conquer” – build resentment in non-union workers against union workers. Since making that statement to a rich donor,  Walker has deftly played “rope a dope” with the press and the public on the issue during his last term and last election, saying “right to work” was a distraction” and that he would “do everything in his power” to prevent such a bill from reaching his desk.

Now Walker has safely gained re-election for a second term, and is gallivanting around the country to try for presidential bid, and he has changed his tune. His Republican cronies in the legislature worked up this bill, which he now says he will sign when it gets to his desk.

This is yet another oppressive power grab by this gubernatorial administration.

Walker, son of up Baptist preacher, talks about God giving him the blessing to pursue his ongoing quest for more power. Yet, there’s something to learn from a philosopher who studied power. I speak of Frederick Nietzsche, the existentialist thinker and writer but especially as contextualized by the great American philosopher William Barrett, a great interpreter of existential philosophy, especially in his classic book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy.


“Irrational Man” book cover courtesy Wikipedia.org

Understand, I don’t consider myself an existentialist, per se. But the philosophy substantially informs my thinking. I was raised a Catholic and today informally call myself a Unitarian agnostic, who still prays in my own ways, just like Father Jim Murphy does, publicly and privately.

Any reflective person cannot ignore modern history which includes the existentialist philosophical movement. It grew out of the experience of World War II, and the horrors of the Holocaust, which drove many people to question whether God was still alive.

Though many people think of existentialism as European, the philosophy profoundly informs the American experience, with our history of The Civil War, The Gilded Age, and especially since The Great Depression and the post-war experience.

That dark “Twilight Zone” sense of dread that life’s uncertainties, unfairness and pitfalls can impose on the celebrated American individual is perhaps an “irrational” fear, but a very real one. Didn’t most of us feel it on 9/11, and perhaps the 99 per cent of us during our Great Recession? Existential dread permeates most classic American crime fiction and the great American tradition of film noir cinema.

But my subject is political power, in this instance. Nietzsche, as interpreted by William Barrett, has plenty to say: “Power as the pursuit of more power inevitably founders in the void that lies beyond itself. The will to power begets the problem of nihilism.”

Barrett writes that Nietzsche prophesized remarkably that “nihilism would be the shadow, in many guises and forms, that would haunt the 20th century. Supposing man does not blow himself and his earth to bits,  and that he really becomes the master of this planet. What then? (Barrett’s book was published in 1958 and the paperback edition in 1962 through the height of the Cold War, an even larger existential treat).

Note how relevant Barrett is to today: “Power for power’s sake, the matter of how far powers extended, leads always to the dread of the void beyond. The attempts to stand face-to-face with that void is the problem of nihilism. For the existentialists who felt that the other higher eternal realm (of religious belief) is gone, Nietzsche declared, man’s highest values lose their value. The only value Nietzsche can set up to take the place of these highest values that have lost their value for contemporary man is: Power.

“To the degree that modern life has become secularized these highest values anchored in the eternal, have already lost their value. So long as people are blissfully unaware of this, they of course did not sink into any despondency and nihilism; they may even be steady churchgoers.

“Nihilism, in fact is the one subject on which we speak today with the self-complacency of commencement-date orators. We are always ready to invoke the term against a new book on new play that has anything ‘negative’ to say, as if nihilism is always to be found in the other persons, never in ourselves.”

Nihilism never goes away. Now the gruesome brutality of the Middle Eastern radical terrorist group ISIS seems as nihilistic as anything. Will we start another ground war again? Walker would, he says.

Barrett continues to nail us: “And yet despite all its apparently cheerful and self-satisfied immersion in gadgets and refrigerators, American life, one suspects, is nihilistic to its core. It’s final quote ‘what for?’ Is not even asked, let alone answered.”

It’s uncanny that he wrote this in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, but it is also the era of the TV show “Mad Men” as well.

“Unless our Faustian civilization can relax its frantic dynamism at some point it might very well go psychotic,” he concludes. “To primitives and Orientals, we Western men already seem half-crazy. We need to know what in our fundamental way of thinking needs to be changed so that the frantic will to power will not appear is the only meaning we can give to human life.”  4

At the pro-union rally protest I attended, clearly the head of the AFL-CIO and all the other speakers had plenty to say about thinking that needs to be changed, and about giving meaning to human life.

But what do Scott Walker and the Republicans — by rushing this bill through — have to say other than talking about “freedom.” The freedom, that is,  to work without paying dues, and yet receiving all the benefits and pay rates that a union works hard for all the company’s workers to enjoy? Walker and the Republicans want to outlaw union fees that people who prefer not to join a union might pay for the benefits, the better training, the workplace safety, and wages union provides them.

It’s “peddling a double standard” as Democratic State Senator Robert Wirch said, because Wisconsin chambers of commerce require all businesses to pay fees to them so that the powerful commerce chambers will protect them when they need legal or funding help or otherwise.

But the Republicans want to legally strip workers of that protection. The subject of this sort of government intrusion on private business affairs is worthy of a full public debate and discussion.

Scott Walker has been a career politician since he since he was in college at Marquette University. He allegedly played dirty tricks in running for a school office by removing from on campus news boxes all the newspapers that endorsed his opponent, among other questionable tactics. A short while later he dropped out, far short of his degree. Shortly after that he began the full quest, a will to power that has been driving his life ever since.

Do you have much sense that he cares about Wisconsin today, as he traipses around the country trying to get billionaires and to give him money for his presidential run?

For his occasional son-of-a-preacher pieties, one senses he is walking through a nihilistic void of pure power seeking, with political caginess but heedless hubris, over which even some conservatives shake their heads in dismay. “I wouldn’t bet against me on anything,” he recently boasted to a reporter. 5.

His grandiosity grows. When asked recently how he’d take on the ISIS terrorists he made a distasteful association with Wisconsin protesters: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do that across the world.” 6.

Who does he speak for other than his vainglorious self, in disarming platitudinous rhetoric, except to the extreme right political base, and Republican Party establishment looking for an electable candidate, and most of all to the richest one percent in America. Who else is he really working for?


Photos by Kevin Lynch, unless otherwise noted.

  1. The remarkable story of that huge event, which helped to inspire the Occupy Wall Street movement is documented in the book Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street  by John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, and another former colleague of this writer.
  2. McNally was also the union steward of the first newsroom union to ever grace The Milwaukee Journal in the mid-1980s. I happened to be the first personnel case that the new union stood up for. I was laid off from my job as a part-time staffer in the features section in what amounted to a power move by an editor vying for a high position and trying to show he could tighten up a budget.  The lay-off had nothing to do with my performance.

An independent arbitrator decided that the newspaper had unfairly laid me off without offering to relocate me to another position, although I did apply unsuccessfully for a couple of other positions. Thanks to the new union’s president Jack Norman, steward McNally and others, I got my part-time staff position back, along with nine months back pay.

  1. https://expressmilwaukee.com/article-permalink-20907.html
  2.  William Barrett, Irrational Man: A study in Existential Philosophy, Anchor Books, 1962, 203-205.
  3.  Here’s the video of Walker’s comment: http://dailysignal.com/2015/02/01/scott-walker-wouldnt-bet-anything/
  4. https://us-mg205.mail.yahoo.com/neo/launch?.partner=sbc&.rand=acrals92f0pdh#mail



Bill Camplin’s “Understory” digs deep, while casting a long shadow on the present



Bill Camplin – Understory (self-released)

Bill Camplin observes and invokes life with unblinking candor on his inspired new recording. This crystal-clear Nashville-recorded session stands as Camplin’s strongest-ever album of original work. Peerless in its naked, high-baritone beauty, his voice employs Dylanesque duskiness and deftly doled drama, often wrapped in rueful irony.

Camplin testifies to human foibles and futility, as personal confession and for those underfoot, suffering exploitation. Therein lie his “understories,” insightful, humane and possessing a perfect pitch of indignance.

“Old Man Sleep” requires little reflection, yet begs for it. Camplin witnesses a street-wandering soul, addressing the elder beyond earshot with extraordinary tenderness. Haunting falsetto phrases recall the great jazz singer Andy Bey. Camplin, a master of linguistic quirk, notes: “in the alley of existence your slur lives on.”

“Seems I’ve Seen This Night Before” attests to Everyman’s flounderings: I’m losing all concept of what I intend/playing the victim and stumbling away.

By contrast, “Fatcats,” is a romping blues-funk protest – with streaming organ backdrop — against the (Wall Street) “fatcats who want it all.”

“Rage Against the Night,” stands as Understory’s masterpiece, high, street-corner poetry worthy of the best Dylan or Townes Van Zandt, whispering Lear-like existential pathos. Sostenuto cello and majestically descending guitar chords soon recall John Cale-Lou Reed scenarios. Camplin’s voice unleashes a sort of threepenny-opera passion. “Rage” summons hearts and minds with time-borne challenges and no easy answers, only faith in perseverance and, in its affirmative key of C, will for justice:

The flood of history as it advances forth among us/

and the drained potentials that the deluge washes from us/

Between our future and our past, let us rage against the night.


Out on a thunderclap, oh, the light is breaking/

children’s voices calling as they are waking/

Spring erupts again to put forth the final fight

camplin w satch

Bill Camplin performing with violinist Randy Sabien and guitarist Satchel Paige Welch. Courtesy dwightfpl.wordpress.com

The album bristles with musical variety as Camplin’s son and album producer Satchel Paige interjects pithy, conversational guitar fills and hand-in-glove gestures, especially on the brilliantly arranged “All in the Name of You.” Trumpet, cello, organ and pedal steel help till Understory with spades of fresh vigor. We should hear more from the talented Mister Paige before long.

Yet Understory’s flat-earth CD cover abstraction might also suggest voices rising from graves, and the veteran songwriter addresses, amid our gadget-clogged distraction, the eternal question of finally relinquishing the temporal spirit, “Where Do We Surrender?”

“Take your souls, take them out on the highway…release yourself to a deadly extreme… ….where do we confess we can on longer try?” Here’s Camplin performing the song, at an Earthkeepers Mississippi River Sacred Sites Benefit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mOf7cZ4j5M

But Camplin, the 68-year-old co-owner of Fort Atkinson’s roots music mecca Café Carpe, ain’t going nowhere soon, one hopes. 1 He’ll release a live recording of a renunion of the Cardboard Box band, named for his 1975 album. He plans two more volumes of his masterful Dylan interpretations, documented first in Dylan Project One from 2003, along with another album of originals still unfolding down the dusty roads of his mind, and a “country” album.

Don’t wait for those to catch up with Camplin. Here’s an Understory: One day, he suddenly disappears, like many a mythical or forgotten troubadour-poet eccentric. They bury him in an ungainly cardboard box in a modestly marked grave on the banks of the Rock River. Then his remains wash away in the streams of time. Which, as we know, waits for no one.

Understory is available at Cafe Carpe, 18 S. Water Street West, Fort Atkinson, and at  cdbaby.com: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/billcamplin3


1. Cafe Carpe, also a fine eatery, has a long history as a Midwest crossroads for great and obscure singer-songwriters and vernacular groups. The Carpe also provided the artistic sowing ground of Peter Mulvey, Jeffrey Foucault and the collaborative group Redbird, among others. Among recent acts I’ve seen there include Redbird (Mulvey, Foucault, Kris Delmhorst and David Goodrich) at their holiday season concert series and, last month, Steve Forbert, another baby boomer rudely defying the ravages of age.

For information, visit: http://cafecarpe.com/listening/

This review was originally published in a shorter form in The Shepherd Express: https://expressmilwaukee.com/article-permalink-25043.html


Looking again at how the great Italian painter Titian understood ancient times, and ours

Photo illustration by Andrew B Myers. Prop stylist Sonja Rentsch

New York Times Magazine photo illustration by Andrew B Myers.

As I read the sad and disturbing article “Feed Frenzy” in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, something stirred in the belly of my dismay. The story’s subtitle is “the unique 21st-century misery of the online shaming victim.”

Online, one reads a more blunt headline: “How one stupid tweet blew up Justine Socco’s life.” 1

No, I’ve never been victimized yet, as have the article’s subjects. But I’m interested in finally starting my own Twitter account. As I read, I began to again reconsider plunging myself into the shoot-from-the-hip mentality that dominates this social media.

At least on Facebook, you can contextualize your comments more thoroughly, so that misinterpretations like those that ruined a number of people’s lives don’t explode in their faces, often before for they realize the reactions have spread like a monstrous global cancer.

On Dec. 20, 2014, Justine Socco — in flight on a plane trip from London to South Africa before she discovered she was being globally pilloried — insensitively joked on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

She preceeded that with sassy tweets about a “weird German” with body odor, and “bad teeth” Brits. And before snaggle-toothed Austin Powers could say “Oh, behave!” countless quickly intrepreted that, being white, Socco thought herself above AIDS — too privileged — to get it in Africa.

The author of the article, Jon Ronson, admits to his own share of online tweet shaming, and I have done some of my own but never on Twitter, and only of persons fair game as a public figures, ie. politicians like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  The odd defiance and hubris of someone like Walker, which even some conservatives admit about him, virtually begs for online reproach. 2

But swift judgment is contagious on social media and especially on the forced glibness of Twitter’s 144-character virtual reality. That virtual quality insulates the Tweeter who lashes out. Readers viciously pecked Socco’s personhood and her career to death (flashes of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but such tweeters displayed the crows’ same pack-attack mentality). The pain and damage to a person’s psyche and a life are quite real. Justine remains, a year later, still “wracked by PTSD, depression and insomnia,” after she lost her job as a senior director of communications at IAC (a leading online consumer service company).

Ronson recounts a few other “tweet frenzy” victims’ sad stories, and then something clicked with me when he started digging into the history of public shaming in America. He found, on microfilm in the Massachusetts Archives in Boston, an article about how, on July 15, 1742, “a woman named Abigail Gilpin, her husband at sea, had been found  ‘naked in bed with one John Russell .’ They were both to be ‘ whipped at the public whipping post 20 stripes each.’ Abigail was appealing the ruling, but it wasn’t the whipping itself she wished to avoid. She was begging the judge to let her be whipped early, before the town awoke.  ‘If Your Honor pleases,’‘ she wrote, ‘ take some pity on me for my dear children cannot help her unfortunate mother’s failings.”

At the time, crowds of people flocked to public shamings and continued berating with relish, just as they did in 1692-3 at the notorious witch trials and hangings in Salem, Mass. 3


A dramatization of a Salem witch trial. Courtesy www.thehorrorzine.com

Right then, it struck me again, why I had been so fascinated by the Italian painter Titian’s painting “Christ and the Adulteress,” which I had seen in person recently at the Milwaukee Art Museum and which now I have as my computer screen saver.

The painting was a centerpiece of Heaven and Earth: 500 years of Italian Painting from Glasgow Museums, now at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, through May 3 under a somewhat more secular title: Botticelli, Titian and Beyond: Italian Masterpieces from the Glasgow Museums.


“Christ and the Adulteress” by Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), 1508-10. Courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum

The brilliance of Titian’s daring and evocative formal handling of his subject matter fascinated me, as I discussed in a previous Culture Currents post:https://kevernacular.com/?p=5704

Justine’s and Abigail’s stories helped me understand that this painting’s alluring and sculptural tangle of figures says even more about social matters than I had first inferred. Like Abigail, the woman in the famous Bible story appeared guilty of adultery and, with a swift judgment, the Pharisee drags her to Christ, actually with the duplicitous intention of trapping him into defying established Roman law by defending her. Working in suspicious shadows, the self-styled messiah does just that, helping seal his own fate as a dissident radical.

But the artist Titian has societal fish to fry with all those busybodies crammed into this compositional pan. You can count five other people standing nearby as the Pharisee baits Christ to become the sixth, or become a criminal himself. On the left, the man with his foot on a tree stump addressing another woman on his left while aiming the proverbial pointed finger of blame at the poor woman. The woman listening, as a credit to her gender, looks on balefully, as if questioning the quick condemnation. Titian also inserts two men in the background, explicitly to show two smirking men gabbing, clearly indulging their own clucking opinions of the woman.

The original painting actually had another man on the far right, whose knee remains still visible against the accused woman’s white skirt.

Look at the copy of the original uncut painting below. Titian probably cut the canvas because his better sense decided this large figure made the composition too busy. The self-consciously dandy he eliminated seems more interested in posing than in the dramatic moment. Nevertheless the figure further underscores Titian’s original point of how public the woman’s shaming felt to her.

after titian

Copy after Titian, “Christ and the Adulteress,” Accademia, Carrara, Bergamo. Photo of catalog reproduction by Ann Peterson.

Further most of the people don’t seem to hear Christ’s response to the Pharisee which, of course, became historic wisdom: “Let he who hath not sinned cast the first stone.”

The man on Christ’s left shoulder, perhaps the disciple Peter, seems the only one paying attention to Christ. Yet the elder man puts his hand to his chest as if taken aback by Christ’s bold defiance of the Pharisee, and of conventional moralism.

So Christ is essentially alone in this crowd taking the stance. Yet, of course, even though he speaks to defend her from a stoning, the woman must feel more alone than anyone, as her abject countenance makes utterly clear. Her head, legs and feet still recoil and resist her apparent fate while the Pharisee drags her arm and upper torso forward.

So the painting brims with politics at several different levels — the “gotcha” entrapment of Christ himself in defying the law, and of the caught-in-the-act woman. And Titian highlights the naked self-righteousness of political correctness even as he hides the hero’s face in the shadows. Christ clearly dwells in a different realm of spirit, understanding and insight.

Now Titian’s painting and Christ’s message seem more timely than ever. We see a mere handful of people indulging in the latest gossip. On Twitter, literally millions can quickly pounce on such an admittedly insensitive tweeter like Justine. Her life quickly crumbles into a shambles.

Sam Biddle, then the editor of Valleywag, Gawker Media’s tech-industry blog, re-tweeted Socco’s post to his 15,000 followers and posted on Valleywag. He says he would do it again and that ”she’d be fine eventually, if not already.”

Socco is far from “fine.” Most of us know at least something about depression, insomnia and unemployment. Poorer understood is post-traumatic stress disorder, and it’s far more common than people think. We hear a lot about soldiers suffering from it, but I know at least one friend who has suffered with the diagnosis for years after her boss repeatedly abused her. She eventually lost her job, in a staff downsizing.

Ronson’s article and this painting help me to understand my friend’s situation, even though she was hardly guilty of anything — rather she courageously stood up repeatedly to a bully boss.

So I think I’ll probably think once yet again about whether I’ll enter the still-strange-to-me-me Twitter world even though — as the insightful, recently deceased New York Times media writer David Carr noted — Twitter is good discipline for a writer to boil down his statements. But I strive to do that on Facebook because I know most people scroll and read quickly.

And as the article points out ironically, Sacco’s “tormentors were instantly congratulated as they took (her) down, bit by bit, and so they continued to do so. Their motivation was much the same as Sacco’s own– a bid for the attention of strangers — as she milled about Heathrow (Airport), hoping to amuse people she couldn’t see.”

In the article, Justine argues that her joke didn’t signify her reveling in white privilege. Rather she was making fun of how “living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the Third World. I was making fun of that bubble.”

Biddle eventually apologized to Socco. Her story, and the story Titian tell us in his painting, show how we still have much to learn from very old history, and from old art, and from both great leaders and the anonymous players — like the unnamed adulteress woman — who suffer in their tortured symbolism. Today “smart” phone photo images of her might saturate the Internet, smeared in electronic shame.

Would that the “fallen” Biblical woman, like Justine Socco, live on as a symbol of a flawed person whom the great humanist Christ valued — beyond her real or perceived “sins” — for struggling along life’s up-and-down path. Most wise storytellers or artists give their protagonist a fighting chance at redemption, before a mob-rule sentence is passed. Why not tweeters, too?



2. The nation’s most polarizing state governor continues to get mostly roses thrown at his feet by national and even local media, surprised by the Teflon quality he shares — so far — with his innocuous rhetorical role model Ronald Reagan. Yet Walker continues frequent ideological overstepping, trampling not only on the roses but the pursuit of education and knowledge and social equality, among other worthy goals.

3. No women were burned at the stake in Salem. They were hanged or jailed. The myth derives likely from European witch trials, where execution by fire was disturbingly common. The Holy Roman Empire’s medieval code “Constitutio Criminalis Carolina” stipulated that witchcraft should be punished by fire, and church leaders and local governments oversaw the burning of witches in parts of modern day Germany, Italy, Scotland, France and Scandinavia. Historians estimate that the witch-hunt hysteria that peaked between the 15th and 18th centuries saw some 50,000 people executed as witches in Europe. http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/were-witches-burned-at-the-stake-during-the-salem-witch-trials

The image of the larger uncut version of the Titian painting is actually a painting done “after Titian” by staff Academia Carrara, in Bergamo, Italy.