Welcome to Gravesend



Greetings. You’ve just arrived at the Mark Drought website, home to snide and biased commentary, as well as links to many more-interesting sites. (In case you might be wondering, Gravesend is a fictional New Hampshire town in my favorite novel.)

In continuous operation for more than 15 years, this site is written from the point of view of a slightly left-of-center, agnostic libertarian with faintly Buddhist tendencies. I’m an editor/writer, op-ed columnist and a former adjunct English professor at the University of Connecticut, from which I graduated way back in the 20th Century.

The Drought Family
Coat of Arms

I’m a fan of T.S. Eliot, Texas hold ’em, the Grateful Dead, Baroque choral music, South Park, Eric Hoffer, Firesign Theater, Gore Vidal, Carl Sagan, chicken scarpiello, 1950s bebop (Coltrane and Clifford Brown), W.B. Yeats, Hacker Pschorr beer, rogan josh, John Irving, chipotle peppers, basketball (pro and college), Yes, the Allman Brothers, George Carlin, chili with shredded beef, Joni Mitchell, William Faulkner, Monty Python, F. Scott Fitzgerald, W.H. Auden, Jack Daniels, Isaac Asimov, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, the Miami Dolphins, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Chris Rock, Woody Allen, the Los Angeles Lakers, thin-crust pizza, Arthur Clarke, vintage port, Stilton cheese and a decent cigar.

 

Just about my favorite fictional character is E.K. Hornbeck, from Jerome Lawrence’s play Inherit the Wind, which is also one of my favorite movies (the 1960 Spencer Tracy/Fredric March version). Hornbeck (played by Gene Kelly) was based on the great Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken (click here for some of his best quotations), who was once America’s foremost practitioner of that craft. 

If some of your favorite people include Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, George W, Michele Bachmann, St. Paul, Sean Hannity, Pope Pius XII, Randall Terry, Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly, Rick Santorum, Iranian Ayatollahs and American Fundamentalists, Ann Coulter, Ken Ham, Dick Cheney, Dennis Miller, the Fox News Channel, Mark Levin, William Donohue, the Ku Klux Klan, the Southern Baptists or the 700 Club, you should probably exit for a more right-wing region of the Web.

 

Two more of my favorite characters (Toby and Tucker) are shown to the left. For a full gallery of family pet pictures, you can click here.

My wife and I are childless (although we prefer the less politically correct term “child-free”), so we take far too many pictures of our pets, after forcing them to dress up in needlessly cute and colorful outfits.

Click here to go to the end of this page and comment on anything you’ve read so far.

To access one of the funniest site on the Web, click here for the satirical publication The Onion. If you like political cartoons, you might enjoy the Jeff Danziger website, which has some good ones going back to 1998. And, if you’d like to laugh until you wet yourself, try clicking here for a mock culinary website that’s indescribably funny ... just scroll down under the heading “Steve, Don’t Eat It! Vol. 1.


As a regular columnist for several local newspapers — including The Stamford Advocate (Stamford, Connecticut) and Greenwich Time (Greenwich, CT), The Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT) and, occasionally, the The Fairfield Weekly (Fairfield, CT) and the Danbury News Times (Danbury, CT) — I’ve found the worst thing about writing editorials is that, no matter how controversial my rants might be on Monday, they’re lining cats’ litter boxes (receiving the treatment many readers felt they deserved in the first place) by Wednesday. So, to make my musings more semipermanent, I’ve developed this site.

Following are some of the more-recent articles currently available (older material is archived farther down the page).

  • Current Events:

    • A Confusing and Violent 2015 Raises a Lot of Questions for 2016Some of the questions raised by the disturbing events of 2016 don’t seem to have good answers, and many of them are things we don’t really even want to think about.

    • Racism and Islamophobia: Not Quite the Same ThingWith more and more Americans outraged by the Islamic State (ISIS), there’s a danger we could be putting “boots on the ground” again in the Mideast. It might be a good idea to take our time this time around; the last go-round in Iraq continues to be the worst mistake of the new century thus far, and it’s getting worse all the time.

    • Zero Tolerance for the ‘But Squads’Isn’t is about time we stopped making excuses for outrageous criminal behavior, especially in the area of terrorism, and stopped blaming the victims for “bringing it on themselves.”

    • Keeping History HonestIf it comes down to a choice between looking at things as we’d like them to be and how they are, it’s probably better to go with what’s realistic. We Americans too often choose hypocrisy over honesty ... it’s what we like to think of as American exceptionalism.

    • This Time Around, It’s ISISI’m not saying we should just sit back and do nothing about the threat of ISIS; however, given our past fiascos and failures in the Middle East, I think we should at least consider sitting back and doing nothing, before we start the invasion.

    • Hard Questions for LeftiesI wish that I could say that the conservatives are always full of crap, and the liberals are always the voice of reason. If only that were true. Sometimes the people on my side of the political spectrum don’t make any sense to me at all.

    • Losing the UkraineI’m hearing a lot of talk from Republicans about how Obama lost the Crimea, and soon Vladimir Putin will be seizing all of the Ukraine because Obama is so weak. What I’m not hearing is what he should do to prevent this, or even what some mythical, godlike Republican president (think Saint Reagan) would have done differently or could have done differently.

    • Sectarian ColonialismWhen people contribute money to send missionaries overseas to “save souls,” I’m not sure they realize some of the ways that money is put to use ... or maybe they do.

  • Freedom of Speech:

    • Islamophobia: Prejudice or Discernment?Is criticism of Islam racist? Is criticism of any religion bigotry? Or are religions and political parties always fair game for disapproval?

    • Freedom of Religion Requires Free SpeechClaiming your religion is better than someone else’s is as American as apple pie. This is even true when your religion is not as popular as the other guy’s faith. This article generated quite a flurry of response in the local newspapers, both pro and con.

    • Flag Desecration Should Be Considered Patriotic — I’m bothered by the repression that masquerades as patriotism in times of national danger, including during the War on Terror.

    • Sacrilegious Expression Is a Protected Right — This piece was written to rebut an editorial by the managing editor of a Stamford newspaper advocating censorship and/or the destruction of “offensive” artwork. (If you support offensive art, take a look at this link — www.estermann.com — which was sent by a reader in Zurich, Switzerland, who enjoyed my article.)

  • Church and State:

    • The Sharia Solution — According to Republican genius Newt Gingrich, the way to stop terrorism is to look into the minds of Muslims, find out what they believe and then deport them for it, even if they haven’t committed any crimes. Screw that pesky First Amendment ... you can’t let the Constitution keep us from doing whatever the hell we (good, white, righteous American Christians) want to.

    • What Happens When the Bible and the Constitution Clash? — According to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, you have an obligation to put your religion ahead of the law of the land, especially when this provides you the opportunity to deny equality to homosexuals.

    • It Doesn’t Always Have to Be My Way or the Highway — Religious fanatics who say that you either believe like me or rot in hell are generally those on the Right, who think any straying from absolute fundamentalism is compromising with the Devil. It doesn’t have to be that way, and surprisingly, one person saying so is televangelist Pat Robertson.

    • Blasphemy Is out of Place in a Democracy — When free speech and freedom of religion clash, the devout are generally willing to throw free speech under the bus.

    • Why Conservative Christians Scare the Rest of Us — One of the bartenders at the Bruce Park Grill in Greenwich, Connecticut (home of the best damn pizza in Fairfield County), asked me once on Facebook, “Why are you so bothered by Christians?” Here’s my answer.

    • Are Mormons a Cult and Who Cares? — How will right-wing Christians feel when they have to choose between Satan (AKA Barack Obama) and a member of a non-Christian cult (Mitt Romney)? What would Jesus do (WWJD)? And, more importantly, what would Ronald Reagan do (WWRD)?

    • Pedophile Protectors Circle the Wagons — Eight years after my last article on this controversial subject, the Catholic church is still playing a public relations game with its “parade of pedophiles” problem.

    • Evolution vs. Creationism: A Guide for the Nonscientist — When scientists debate creationists, they invariably crush them like grapes. But how can the rest of us nonscientific types cope with the fundamentalist wackos all around us who want religion taught in our public school science classes?

  • Politics:

    • Deficit SpendingIt may be the most important issue of the 2016 election, and no one talking about it at all. What happened to all those Tea Partiers who thought spending beyond our means was a critical issue when a Democratic president was the focus of deficit reduction?

    • Choosing Between Two Unsavory AlternativesThe lesser of two evils doesn’t sound much like an inspiring campaign slogan, but we live in the real world. With the GOP running the worst candidate in its history, and the Democrats not all that far behind in the race to the bottom, you have to do the best you can.

    • Gaffes in an Election YearEvery now and then, politicians stumble into the truth. They hate that, and they usually try to get away from it as quickly as possible. And this applies even to the most unconventional and supposedly candid candidates.

    • President Trump: Get Used to That PhraseThere’s a horrible, sexist and tasteless saying, which I won’t repeat here. However, there’s a horrible, sexist and tasteless candidate heading toward the position of leader of the Free World. In his honor, let me just repeat the punch line of that awful saying: “If there’s nothing else you can do, sometimes you all you can do is just lay back and enjoy it.”

    • Truthiness and the 2015 PrimariesThis election should be narrated by George Costanza, whose best line ever was, “It’s not a lie ... if you believe it.” The American people will believe almost anything this year.

    • This Is the Year of the Amateur and the Extreme Partisan in Electoral PoliticsThe 2015–2016 presidential campaign season is highly partisan, and it features the idea that, because the professionals have made a mess in Washington, we should elect someone totally unqualified.

    • Predictions for the 2015/2016 Election ExtravaganzaYes ... that’s right, it now takes two years to fit in all the wacky crap we need for an American presidential election. Thank the election gods for Trump ... if only Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann would throw their crazy into the ring.

    • Libertarianism Is Much Rarer Than You ThinkConservatives like to pretend they’re libertarians, because the concept has a certain cachet during periods of time when politicians are held in low esteem. Of course, it’s crap, and conservatives, like the Tea Party, are one of the reasons we dislike politics so much.

  • Popular Culture:

    • You Are Welcome, Millennials — It has come to my attention that some members of the younger generation are not as grateful to us Baby Boomers for the great legacy we are leaving them as one might expect them to be. That’s a damn shame.

    • Best of Enemies — Take two intellectuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum who absolutely loathe each other, and stick them together night after night in a debate setting, and what do you get? A documentary about 1968, starring William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal, that’s a whole lot more fun than it ought to be.

    • The Fermi Paradox — What do you suppose an alien race exploring our solar system will find if they show up on Earth in the year 2115? There’s a distinct possibility that they’ll find nothing more than the remains of a once-thriving civilization, because it’s not too far-fetched to hypothesize that mankind may just be “too stupid to live.”

    • Baltimore Blues — Maybe we could start thinking about being practical when it comes to the problems of the inner city, rather than coming at it from the extremes of right and left.

    • Stuff I Won’t Miss — The older you get the more you lose out on; however, being a glass-half-full optimist, I’ve decided to someone ought to write an article about the stuff you lose out on to which you can honestly say, “Good riddance.”

    • What a Racket! — If, like me, you made some bad career choices along the way, like majoring in some liberal arts area that doesn’t provide you with any marketable job skills, you might enjoy this article. I’m an English major, and I should have looked for something more lucrative ... like televangelist or snake handler ... or snake oil salesman.

    • I Should Live So Long — As I reach my “Golden Years,” I sometimes marvel at the stuff I’ve seen come to pass. And there are still some things I’d like to see happen before I go to the big dirt nap.

    • Why We Should Continue to Fund SETI — The hope that we’re not alone in the universe seems to a universal human aspiration. Unfortunately, we’ve stopped looking for intelligence beyond the Earth, which is a sign of a lack of intelligence on the Earth.

  • A True-Life Personal Anecdote:

    • Unspoken Words — This story doesn’t readily fit into any particular category. I wanted to try writing something sentimental, but not sappy. It’s a fine line to walk, especially for me, as it’s not really my style. In 2006, this story was published in a book that briefly made it onto the New York Times best-seller list. It’s available on Amazon.com. For more information, you can also click here.

  • Technology:

  • Poker:  

    • Shut Up and Deal A heartwarming story about Friday night poker games. A reader from Australia e-mailed some nice things about this story, so I’ve included a link to his homepage — like many good Australian sites, it deals with beer and poker. I’ve also linked to the Octoroon Poker Club, which meets in neighboring Westchester County. Members of this group — like its leader, Tom Tringali, who sounds like a kindred spirit —  have sent several friendly e-mails.

    • House of Cards — A list of popular and not-so-popular games, with rules and commentary, as well as a link to the Bylaws of the Southwestern Connecticut Poker Association (SWCPA), which has conducted Friday night poker games for more than 30 years. Another Australian reader sent me a URL for his site, which involves, in his words, “beer, music and sport,” so I’m including a link to it here. (Evidently, Gravesend is popular “Down Under.” Many of the responses I’ve gotten regarding the poker sections of this site have come from Australia, including one from Cathy Jenkins, a Web designer from Canberra — click here — and the first female to show an interest in anything poker-related at Gravesend.)

    For an extensive poker site full of helpful information, as well as links to other poker-related sites, try Online Poker Tools, based in Manasquan, NJ, and managed by Chris Sorensen.

  • Sports:

    • Death of a Superstar — Sports are fun and games, so they’re seldom truly “important.” And the people who play them are generally entertainers, who don’t warrant any more attention than your average singer or actor. However, there are always exceptions.

    • Too-Easy Sainthood — Once Michael Vick became a better quarterback, the ex-con seemed to become a better person, at least in the eyes of the jocks and sportscasters who covered his career. Sports fans are so eager to see their heroes as saints, they’re willing to give them a free pass for almost any crime, no matter how disgusting.

    • I’m No Role Model —  This short op-ed piece deals with sports and politics. If, like me, you love sports, but find athletes more than a little bit sickening, you might enjoy this one.

    • Game of the Decade — A longer article turned down by sports magazines nationwide. (Actually, I think it works quite well as a nostalgia piece.)

  • Science Fiction:

    • Critical Mass — A rather longish short story rejected by science-fiction magazines all over the country. (Read it yourself to find out why.)

Political Satire:

The first three items below were published “Letters to the Editor” (The Stamford Advocate); the last two were articles written for The Quayle Quarterly, a now-defunct magazine that once made fun of a now-forgotten former vice president.

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**From the Archives — Oldies From the Dim Past**

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The black-and white pinhole camera photo to the left was supplied by Paul Jones, professional photographer, ex-carpenter and drinking buddy, as well as amateur poker player (the best kind — bad player, good loser, always brings plenty of cash). He’s finally gotten around to putting up some of his pictures on a site, which you can access by clicking on his head, which is right below the Bass Ale tap. You can also find a different collection of pinhole pictures by clicking here. (Unfortunately, he was too cheap to spring for color film.) And you can find another cache of pinhole pictures right here.

Paul is also responsible for the commercial photo below ... that’s his hand expertly pouring the beer into the mug.

Although I have to confess that Bud is far from my favorite brand of beer, even the least-tasty lager has it all over most other beverages. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that — just as there’s no truly bad lamb vindaloo, bad Shakespeare or bad sex — there’s no truly “bad beer” ... only varying degrees of good.

To turn the Bud into something better, point to the head on the glass. Then click on the resultant Hindu brewski to view a list of beer- and alcohol-related quotations I’ve compiled. Beer lovers who want to read reviews of many popular brands should click here.

The picture to the left was done by Steve MacLeod, a commercial artist from Southbury, Connecticut. We worked together during the 1980s and early 1990s, and these days, he’s on his own. To take a look at another of his drawings, drag your mouse over the bird.
To view a gallery of Steve’s work, click on his logo:

Junk text as a divider — and some more junk text as a divider

Many of Linda Champanier’s paintings are oriented toward a sci-fi/fantasy audience, including some beautiful pictures like the wolf to the left. In my psychedelic days, I was a fan of artists such as Roger Dean (who did many of the Yes album covers). Linda’s paintings remind me of some of Dean’s artwork, as well as the illustrations you see on the covers of books by people such as Anne McCaffrey (“Dragonriders of Pern”) and C.S. Lewis. (Lewis has written some well-loved fantasies, including “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Dark Tower” and “Mere Christianity.”)
For more of Linda’s work, click on the wolf’s snout.

Linda is also quite adept at portraiture, for which she is paid quite handsomely. To the left is her portrait of my oldest friend Joe, who is a degenerate pervert (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), a great drinking buddy and someone who’s like a member of my own family. He’s also one of the finest sailors in the area. Here’s a painting of him at the helm of his gorgeous 31-foot, gaff-rigged Friendship sloop Natanya, on which I’ve spent many a happy hour on Long Island Sound.

One of the best things about having a website is that I become acquainted with people I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten to know. For example, I’ve acquired a pen pal from Gravesend, England, Claire Bellot, who came upon my site while looking for information about her hometown. I’m hoping to announce her upcoming wedding in this space shortly.

I’ve also gotten to know author Lawrence McAuliffe, which has been an interesting experience. He’s a disabled Vietnam War veteran and former chaplain, who’s written a well-received novel called Purple Sun. To read my review, as well as other readers’ critiques, click on the book jacket to go to Amazon.com, which enables readers to write book reviews on its site.

For an environmentally friendly website, take a look at August Pacific Publishing. It includes an alternative transportation newsletter, Fleets and Fuels, owned by crazy bastard Rich Piellisch, an aviation journalist and world traveler whom I met while covering air shows in places like Paris and Singapore for Aviation Week magazine. His site also includes a memorial page for poet Mark Leigh Gibbons, a onetime English professor at Rich’s alma mater, Boston College. Dr. Gibbons is honored by former students with a Pub Crawl of bars through the length of Manhattan, held annually on the first Saturday in May. I’ve found this event to be collegial, congenial and drunken. Rich is also a blues musician, so his site features links to the San Francisco blues scene.
To go to his homepage, click on his ugly polka-dot tie or his even-uglier mug.

Here’s a book by a friend and co-worker — a fine poet named Sherry Fairchok. A graduate of Syracuse University, as well as Sarah Lawrence College’s master of fine arts program, she’s translated a blue-collar background of coal miners and immigrants into a powerful collection of heartfelt verse. She’s currently working on her first novel, which I’m also looking forward to reading.

Sherry’s poetry is the kind of stuff I always wished I could write. Unfortunately, in my youth, what I did write was the sort of pretentious stuff graduate students with overly inflated vocabularies think is monumentally important and “artistic.” That’s why, if you’re lucky, you’ll never see any of it posted here. Click here or on the book jacket to buy Sherry’s book on Amazon.com.

Also located on Amazon.com is this book by an old friend, Penny Van Horn, who lives in Austin, Texas, with her daughter Ava, and has carved out a career in cartooning. Her stuff is rather dark ... along the lines of Harvey Pekar, about whom the disturbing movie “American Splendor” was made in 2003. Take a look at her book by clicking here, or on the book jacket to the right. You can also go to her website by clicking here.

To the left is the home of high school pal Rolf Olsen, of Lebanon, New Hampshire. This is a beautiful part of New England, but I’ve only visited him there in the summer; I’m guessing it might be somewhat less hospitable in mid-February. To visit Rolf’s website, click on his massive forehead, which will soon reach back to his shoulder blades.                  


You’ve pretty much reached the end of the line here (and by now, you’re probably thinking, “Christ, it’s about time”). At this point, I’ll come clean and admit a shameful fact: Although I now consider myself a “recovering Christian,” in my misspent youth, I was a Baptist. I’m not doing any bragging about this, but at least I wasn’t a Southern Baptist, which ranks just below Wahhabi Islam and just slightly above Scientology on my list of “The World’s 10 Most-Distasteful Cults.”

If, like me, you take a jaundiced view of religion in general, and fundamentalist Protestantism in particular, you might enjoy an amusing website that purports to be the homepage of a church somewhere in the Bible Belt: Landover Baptist. Southern Baptists generally have their sense of humor washed away, along with their sins, when they’re immersed, which makes this site a real hoot. For a different take on a similar subject, click here for a wacky site that was nice enough to include a link to mine.

And, finally, one last link you might want to take a look at. For those who view the occupation of editor as a superfluous waste of time, click here for some amusing photos that illustrate just how important this underpaid and underappreciated job can be.

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