Rooting around 

A squirrelly guy I know accosted me recently and demanded I produce a birth certificate in order to prove I'm qualified to write a newspaper column.

This took me by surprise. As many newspaper columns as I've written over the years and generations and centuries — well, it seems like that sometimes — I'd never heard that you have to have credentials before you can take up the trade. Or that you're obliged to haul them out for inspection every time some nut asks you to.

I had ignorantly assumed this to be an open-access occupation. If you had the hankering, and could find someone who'd pay hard coin to rent your blather, then by all means knock yourself out.

You didn't need brains, a heart, or courage. You didn't need passion. You didn't need an agenda. Contrary to Bob Dylan, you didn't need to serve somebody. You didn't need talent or sense enough to come in out of the rain or somebody to make excuses for you or to take the heat for you. Most important, you didn't need qualifications, credentials, permission.

Like King Bertie, you only needed a voice. If the voice was fluent, that made it better. If it was wise, better still.

Maybe in the old USA that was true. In these parlous times with stupidity ascendant, not so much.

The old liberal bias is gone from the media, if it ever existed. It might come back, but not before Jesus does. That is, not anytime soon. It's been replaced or supplanted by a sanctimonious, last-refuge patriotic, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist, pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-science, anti-environment, anti-union, pro-rich, economically clueless and gerontologically hostile bias. A populist knock-off or igmo-pekoe bias usually called conservative because its adherents like the sound of the word. It reminds them of John Galt or Rush Limbaugh, their prick heroes.

To get in on this act, you do have to have an agenda. Or you have to agree to promote an agenda that's assigned to you in the form of "talking points." These talking points are mailed or tweeted to you by orange or nerdy toadies for a cabal of sour old billionaires (sob's) whose objective is to gain ownership or control of the 1 percent of American assets and resources that they don't already own or control. You have to serve them if you want to write a column taking their side. They'll give you a card. It's the only credential you'll need. If you can't get an op-ed job then at the local daily, it won't be because you're outclassed.

Stray from the talking points and you're likely to be called in for a performance review. This process apparently involves a close examination of your birth certificate, and it's at this point that I lose track of what's going on. Why all the attention to birth certificates? I might could understand it a little bit if it was only the birth certificate of a black president you wanted to get shed of. I mean, c'mon, when you succeed in putting Lightning Nicodemus in the White House, it has to mean that Kingfish and Algonquin J. Calhoun and others of the Mystic Knights of the Sea, or their rascal types, done put one over on us regular folks.

And in their conspiriating, they might've forgot to provide him with a birth certificate that would've gitimized his lection. Or they might've whereased and therefoed some damning information onto the bogus birth certificate such as his favorite philosopher is ol' Moe Hammed or his hobbies include palling around with terrorists. Or what Bro. Huckabee said about the Mau-Mau connection and preferring the madrassa over the Rotary Club. Or the Kiwanis. Whichever one has the Four-Way Test

My birth certificate, on the other hand, has nothing on it that's interesting much less scandalous. It tells how old my parents were at my debut and how they made a living. It notes that we were white people, the only other race-box option in use then being "colored." Meaning white wasn't a color back then, I guess.

Otherwise, nada. No eye color. No telltale scars or ugly growths. No gene markers. No hunch I might grow up to be Commie or Mussulman. No wry comments from whoever filled the thing out back in that distant epoch when dragons roamed the land, and Whigs, when as yet unfossilized mastadon bones lay scattered around the landscape and gasoline was available for less than a dollar a gallon and they didn't charge you extra for the lead that they put in it or the lead that they didn't.

I'd bet your birth certificate — and most of them — is just as unremarkable and just as unrevealing. My guess is that the Sour Old Billionaires have developed guidelines for making political deductions about outliers and suspected backsliders from the place-of-birth information on the long-form BCs.

So if you were born in England, well, so was Charles Darwin. In Germany, so was Karl Marx. In Greece, among old pervs who considered reasonable discourse a virtue. In Scandanavia, the workers' paradise. In the Philippines, here only to screw one of our American nurses out of a job. In Mexico, no need to say more. Etc.

Maybe you have a better theory about this latter-day birth-paper fixation. Let me hear.


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