Jul 23, 2021 • 8M

Things That Fall

Look who's got a bully pulpit!

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Here we are. After all kinds of Sturm und Drang, my new foray into the interview/commentary form is here. Bully Pulpit is a podcast about politics, media, culture and society based on four simple principles: observation, argument, narrative and honesty. It should also go without saying that the interviews, essays and pieces will hinge on evidence — as opposed to the asinine and dangerous political currents that favor sentiments and full-on delusions over facts. Indeed, I don’t invoke Sturm und Drang lightly, because that was the name of the intellectual and artistic movement of the late 1700s that privileged sentiment over reason, rejecting Rationalist rigor in favor of human emotion. (Thanks for nothing Jean-Jacques Rousseau.) And as long as we’re doing historical shoutouts, let me also offer a Rough Rider-hat tip to Theodore Roosevelt, the pioneer of Progressivism, who is my spirit guide in this enterprise. Not only did TR lend me the title, his voice of resistance to reactionary forces will literally grace every episode of Bully Pulpit. The century-old audio rides a little rough, but listen hard. It matters.


TEDDY ROOSEVELT: Surely, there never was a fight better worth making than the one which we are in.

BOB GARFIELD: Welcome to Bully Pulpit. That was Teddy Roosevelt, I’m Bob Garfield.

This is sort of Episode 1. Also, sort of a teaser. Or let’s just say an “artist’s statement” about the exhibit displayed in this space. I got no wine and cheese for you, so this will have to do.

Every week, Bully Pulpit will feature essays or interviews on media, politics, society and the culture. Maybe some business and sports, from time to time. Possibly even weather and traffic on the 1s. What I’m saying is: eclectic. The organizing principle is: It depends. But the thrust, the throughline, the raison d’etre is to figure out, in the words of the poet, what the fuck is going on? Because our other current methods of divining the world around us just aren’t working very well.

STEVE HARVEY: Kaylee, what’s the first question somebody asks when they wake up from a coma?

KATIE: What’s, like, new on the radio?

STEVE HARVEY: What’s on the radio?!

BG: New on the radio? That was a poor answer, but not that surprising an answer, because as a species we’re just not all that great at paying attention. Even if you were to accept that Family Feud is somehow a legitimate arbiter of the zeitgeist, you’d discover how lousy many humans are at noticing things. I mean, to borrow Steve Harvey’s own method. Families, we’re looking for Things That Fall.

CONTESTANT 1: Toddlers!

CONTESTANT 2: The stock market!

CONTESTANT 3: Rain and snow!

BG: See what I mean? “Rain and snow.” Hellooooo! What about Chinese rockets?

NEWSCASTER: Remnants of a 20-ton Chinese rocket rained down on the Indian Ocean somewhere southwest of India and Sri Lanka Sunday morning local time.

NEWS GUEST: Nine tons we estimate will survive, and that’s kind of equivalent to dropping three pickup trucks on somebody’s head.

BG: Never mind what “the survey” says; a hail of pickup trucks is the world we actually live in. In just the few weeks, since I signed on for Bully Pulpit, the evidence has piled up: some people are playing by a different set of rules — like the Chinese government, the second least accountable political entity in the world after the House Republican Caucus, just crossing its fingers that the oceans would swallow up nine tons of the not-quite incinerated Long March rocket. The Chinese just happened to catch a break when the Long March missed the Maldives and splashed harmlessly into the Indian Ocean.

You know who did not catch a break?

NEWSCASTER: Tragic scene overnight in the East Village as a woman was killed by a man who jumped from a parking structure. The woman was walking with a man, and the pair had just left a restaurant. Medics …

BG: So, yeah, also unexpected. I mean, women walk down the street ever vigilant to threats. Police advise them to step briskly, to avoid eye contact and to be prepared to fight back with groin kicks, pepper spray or grasping their keys like Edward Scissorhands.

INSTRUCTOR: Drive into that carotid artery. Again, push in, turn, pull out. You’ll kill the crap out of him.

BG: Be prepared, authorities say, because every man is a potential attacker. What the cops don’t tell women is to scan the sky for threatening men, because that is not where people come from. Until they do.

Somehow the world has gone topsy-turvy. You know how people set mouse traps along baseboards, because that’s where rodents tend to skitter? It’s primitive, but effective. The reason the world hasn’t needed a better mousetrap is that nature abides and mice stick to their game plan. Usually.

NEWSCASTER: It’s raining mice in Australia, literally, and I’m not making this up or reading it out from a Murakami. Millions of mice have infested Australia and they’re everywhere — houses, garages, water tanks, under the beds. Mice are also crawling into beds and biting people.

BG: The infestation has lasted for months, millions of not-Mickeys, not-Minnies, not-Jerrys and not-Mightys feasting on crops, biting humans and invading homes.

That sound, from a viral video titled “Mice Raining in Australia,” is the melody of thousands of rodents shooting through the air out of a gigantic hose meant to vacuum grain from a silo, but, with the infestation, instead of disgorging wheat has become like a ski-resort snow machine of your worst nightmares. What fell was a mouse blizzard. Cloudy with a chance of vermin. Like I said, everything is upside down.

DR. VENKMAN: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

BG: Dr. Peter Venkman was most eloquent, but so was that certain famous oracle, that feathered Cassandra, that Paul Revere of poultry: Chicken Little.

CHICKEN LITTLE: The sky must be falling!

BG: In so many ways: mice, rocket ships, plummeting humans. Furthermore, wherever you look, it is just raining stupid. This was an actual witness, called by Republicans to testify about Covid-vaccine side effects, before the Ohio State Legislature.

WITNESS: I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures all over the internet of people who’ve had these shots and now they’re magnetized. They can put a key on their forehead, it sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick. Because now we think that there’s a metal piece to that.

BG: Oy vey. The stock market may slide now and then, but what’s really falling is the bar for what we will accept as normal. Every single day we encounter astonishing and highly dispiriting examples of cultural and political freefall that put the democracy, the planet and our own besieged psyches at risk. It’s as if the whole world had awakened from a coma asking, “What’s new on the radio?”

One answer, of course, could be Bully Pulpit, because this is sort of the radio. But what I’m getting at is: THAT’S THE WRONG QUESTION. We need to be asking the right ones. And someone needs to be paying very close attention — a mission for which I hereby volunteer — even if only to carry some of the burden for you. If the endless bombardment of idiocy tries your nerves and unsteadies your soul, stay with me for the next forever or so. Bully Pulpit is a forum, yes, but also a shelter from all that befalls us. Come on in. We’ve got plenty of room.

Ok, we’re done here. Bully Pulpit is produced by Mike Vuolo and Matthew Schwartz. Our theme was composed by Julie Miller and the team at Harvest Creative Services in Lansing, Michigan. Bully Pulpit is a production of Booksmart Studios. I’m Bob Garfield.