Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hard drive in my head filling up

Last night I could not remember the word “artichoke.” Such a simple thing, yet I could not remember. When I have moments like this (also called a “senior moment”), rather than check myself into an Alzheimer’s care facility* I remember what my doctor told me: “Everyone has moments like that. Our brains are like computer hard drives. They get filled up, and sometimes the memory process is slowed down.”

Artichoke. You already know what it is. I am showing it so I can refer back to it if need be.

What brought it on was watching the Utah Utes play football against the Oregon Ducks. The Oregon uniforms reminded me of artichokes. I had a few frustrating moments trying to think of the name of the “variety of a species of thistle, cultivated as food,” (Wikipedia) and then finally asked my wife. She looked at me as she often does at such moments, in amazement, but came up with the answer. So now I can remember artichoke.

What is also funny is that memory is so selective. We can remember some things with near crystal clarity, and others, even things we should remember, we come up empty when trying to think of them.

I have “forgotten” whole parts of my life. In the 1990s when my therapist asked me to recount a memory from my childhood I went blank. I told her, “I know I have it in there somewhere, but I can’t make it come out.” When I went home I had an uncomfortable evening trying to retrieve the memory, and actually it did not come back fully to me for several weeks. So my head hard drive has been full up for quite a long time. Decades, even.

But in one of those interesting things about memory, one recollection came clearly, and was sparked by a cartoon in the September 28, 2015 New Yorker.

Artist: Michael Crawford. Copyright © 2015 The New Yorker.

I recognized the cartoon as being inspired by the cover of an old detective magazine, one I have in my collection. It is in storage, yet I was able to go into the basement and remember the box it was in.

 Special Detective magazine, Oct-Nov 1951.

Apparently my internal hard drive has glitches when trying to recall some life events and the names of everyday foodstuffs, but no problems recalling a cover of a magazine I have had stored in a box for about twenty years (at least).

Beyond that connection, it makes me wonder where the cartoonist saw the magazine. The Internet?

*My mother spent the last four years of her life in such a place. What losing a parent to Alzheimer’s does is doom one to looking at every little failure of memory or cognition and worry that one is afflicted with dementia.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Phantom Killer, 1946

In 1946 a killer murdered five people in Texarkana, the town that straddles both Texas and Arkansas. Four of the victims were young people parked in “lovers lane.” Like the best seductive mystery stories, the true-life events of the serial murders remain provocative 69 years later.

A popular movie from 1976 re-told the story in its own way. Although claiming to be a true story, it mixed fact with fiction, which didn’t get in the way of its box office appeal. A low budget movie, it earned many more times its production costs during its run in drive-in theaters.

Charles B. Pearce was the producer and an actor in The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The stars were Andrew Prine and Ben Johnson. Prine wasn’t given much to do, but Academy Award winner Ben Johnson’s presence lifted it above the usual B-movie category. In Town Johnson was following up another solid performance in a low-budget film, playing another lawman, Melvin Purvis of the FBI, in the 1973 version of Dillinger, starring Warren Oates.(1)

The poster for the film also makes the claim that “Today [the killer] still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark.” Reporter James Presley. lifelong Texarkana resident, tells the story of law enforcement in his 2014 book, The Phantom Killer, and how the case was solved with the help of an eyewitness to some of the murders. The law believed a man with the unusual name of Youell Lee Swinney was the Phantom Killer. Swinney was a lifelong criminal, spending most of his life in prison. He was out of prison in 1946 and living in the area when the murders occurred. He never admitted that he was the killer, but his wife, Peggy Swinney, described the crimes, claiming to have been on the scene when some of the murders were committed. Peggy denied direct involvement, going along because she said she was “scared to death” of Swinney. But police and prosecutors believed she participated in at least some of the killings and during her confessions to police was trying to mitigate her own role .

The Phantom Killer was published in 2014.

The problem the cops had was getting her to say it in court. Constitutionally, spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other. She was not willing to tell her story to a jury. Even after Peggy divorced Swinney when he was safely in prison for life, she would not testify.
Pictures of the Swinneys from The Phantom Killer. Copyright © 2014 James Presley.

The story of the investigation is fascinating in itself. Besides the killer leaving very few clues, in those days crime scenes were often compromised by rubbernecking civilians, and even the police themselves. It made a hard job near impossible.

Swinney was a sociopath and a menace to society. The law felt it was a compromise having him in prison serving a life sentence for being a habitual criminal. Swinney had other plans. He was no dummy and contested his life sentence. He claimed he had not been represented by counsel in a 1941 prosecution and sentencing, which made him a habitual criminal in the eyes of the law. Although surviving documents of the case stated he had been represented by a lawyer, there was no name listed, and Swinney said there was actually no lawyer. Ultimately a judge did not agree. Swinney came close to being set free. Many in law enforcement and prison officials knew that although he was not convicted of the murders, Swinney was being held with no parole due to the belief that he was the Phantom Killer of Texarkana.

Unfortunately, as the book states, the law never went to the families of those who had been murdered and told them what they had done. I believe there was a legal reason they decided not to share with the families. Had they done so, that probably would have been grounds for an appeal by Swinney. So the story grew up that the killer had never been caught.(2)

During the time of the hysteria while the Phantom Killer still operated, Life magazine had a two-page article explaining the terrors in Texarkana.(3)

What could the reporter and photographer show, really? These pictures must have been frustrating for an editor. They seem somewhat placid considering the terror the town was reported to be in. From the June 10, 1946 issue.

I watched The Town That Dreaded Sundown on YouTube. I don’t know if it will be taken down due to copyright claims, but here is the link to the movie in case it is still up (no guarantees, though):

(1) Oates played his brother in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969). No need to feel sorry for Johnson, doing low-budget films at this stage of his career. He put on no airs nor asked for extra money because of his Academy Award. He did well for himself. He was a horse breeder during his whole acting career, and as Wikipedia puts it, “. . . shrewd real estate investments made Johnson worth an estimated 100 million dollars by his latter years.”

(2) There was also the eyewitness, a young women from the couple who survived the first attack. She claimed the attacker was a black man. The boy who survived said the man wore a mask. It added confusion to the case. I believe the hood worn by the killer in The Town That Dreaded Sundown is actually inspired by the real-life Zodiac killer, who operated in California in the late sixties. Zodiac is another killer whose identity is strongly suspected, but due to lack of evidence was never called to account for his crimes.

(3) At least the hysteria in Texarkana was earned. The case of the so-called “Mad Gasser of Mattoon (Illinois)” is considered a textbook case of mass hysteria. Occurring just a couple of years before the Texarkana events, whether there was actually an attacker or just a lot of fevered imaginations at work, it is still a fascinating story. Read about it in this article from the Oddly Historical website.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Blood moon will bring doom, say followers of popular Mormon author

Despite living in the Mormon Mecca of Utah, I had not heard this about my fellow citizens until this past Friday: Some Mormons, called “preppers,” are stocking up on emergency supplies for what they see as an impending doomsday. Their fear isn’t based on anything scientific, but on the word of a woman who writes books for Mormon readers. The story originated in a couple of Julie Rowe’s books, A Greater Tomorrow: My Journey Beyond the Veil, and The Time is Now.

Julie Rowe, author and visitor to heaven.

In 2014, this Mormon mom of three published her visions from a near-death experience, where she “visited the afterlife, and was shown visions of the past and future.” (I get my information on this phenomenon from a copyrighted article by Peggy Fletcher Stack in The Salt Lake Tribune, September 11, 2015.)

Ms Roweֹs “prophecies” have something to do with seven-year periods of history. As reporter Stack tells it, “Here’s how the doomsday scenario plays out: History, some preppers believe, is divided into seven-year periods — like the Hebrew notion of ‘Shemitah’ or Sabbath. In 2008, seven years after 9/11, the stock market crashed, a harbinger of a devastating recession. It’s been seven years since then, and Wall Street has fluctuated wildly in recent weeks in the wake of China devaluing its currency.
“ . . . Starting September 13 [that is today as I write this], the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days, there will be another, even larger financial crisis, based on the United States’ ‘wickedness.’ That would launch the ‘days of tribulation’ — as described in the Bible.

“They say September 28 will see a full, red or ‘blood moon’ and a major earthquake in or near Utah. Some anticipate an invasion by U.N. troops, technological disruptions and decline, chaos and hysteria.”
Whew. That is some heavy stuff. I was unaware of this drama going on in parts of my community. I thought, these people believe a woman who claims to have visited heaven, but how many of my religious Republican neighbors believe in the thousands of scientists who preach that climate change is real, and have actual evidence to back up their belief?

The other thing that caught my attention was that “near-death experience.” It is not explained in the article. How near death was it? Obviously she survived it, so she was fortunate. Did a skilled physician pull her back from heaven? When she awoke did she complain? “Hey, Doc! WTF? Send me back!”

As another Tribune writer, columnist Robert Kirby (himself a practicing Mormon, although with a satirical sense of humor about church beliefs that must cause brain-freeze to LDS leaders) put it, “I’ll believe an NDE [near death experience] claim when the person relating it was all the way dead. None of this waking up an hour later and saying heaven is like Disneyland only free, or that angels gave them a painless bikini wax. I mean dead, embalmed, and in the ground for, oh, say, a year at least. That’s dead.” (“Death and What Comes Next?” by Robert Kirby, Salt Lake Tribune, February 27, 2015.) Kirby’s comments were not about Julie Rowe, but about people who claim to have visited heaven, then come back to earth and reap earthly rewards when they sell their book or movie based on the “event.”

Up until now, the official position the LDS Church takes on movements that are started by rumor, misreading of scripture or pop culture —  like Rowe’s books —  is usually to keep quiet and let people think what they want to think. This time is different. They actually responded publicly by, according to the newspaper article, “ . . . sending a memo to administrators and teachers in the Church Education System, saying, “Although Sister Rowe is an active member of the [LDS Church], her book is not endorsed by the church and should not be recommended to students or used as a resource in teaching them. The experiences . . . do not necessarily reflect church doctrine, or they may distort doctrine.” Sister Rowe responded, contritely, by saying, “My story is not intended to be authoritative nor to create any church doctrine. It is simply part of my personal journey that I have chosen to share in hopes that t can help people to prepare for the times we live in by increasing their faith in Christ and by looking to our prophet and church leaders for guidance.” That statement might be enough to keep Julie out of the hot seat of a Bishop’s Court, where she could be called in by church elders to explain herself, and why she shouldn’t face excommunication.

Of course Mormons aren’t the only group who believe in doomsday scenarios coming from the full wrath of God, smiting the wicked (i.e., those who don’t agree with the religious types). Every few years there are stories going around about one prophet or another picking a date when everything collapses and the world ends, Christ returns, and all of the sinners and non-believers begin their eternal sentence in a lake of fire. In my opinion those stories are fables told to keep a group in line, designed with religious trappings and scripture to fool the devout.

Just in case, maybe we should all put in a stock of bottled water and tins of Spam to carry us past September 28, in case, you know, doomsday just might be real.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Donald Trump: Celebrity Presidential Apprentice

Ladies and gentlemen...grinning his Satanic grin, The Donald!

I am a Democrat, yet fascinated by Donald Trump. Not as a fan, but as someone who keeps anticipating the inevitable meltdown, when his candidacy for the Republican nomination finally explodes. It hasn’t happened yet, which has surprised almost everyone who watches politics. Especially me. Trump can be devilish, and yet his followers forgive him. He has insulted Hispanics, women (including one from Fox News, which should be promoting him, not trying to counter his attacks), and naturally, other politicians. He even called Senator John McCain a “loser” for being captured by the North Vietnamese(1). If there is a line one does not cross, that is probably it. It caused a lot of controversy, but the other feature of Trump’s is his refusal, or inability, to apologize for anything he says. His crowd loves him for it.

Last week he called the husband of Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, a “perv” — the “perv” being former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who sent pictures of his private parts to women. It cost Weiner his job. I cannot imagine anyone else but Trump saying that in the heat of a Presidential campaign. He could think it, but to say it out loud takes a shoot-from-the-lip type of personality. Once words leave his mouth, no matter how outrageous, he defends them. When he said that Fox News’ Megyn Kelly was “bleeding from her eyes or wherever” he defended it by saying it was a common expression. Well, a common expression no one else but Trump has ever heard, but he did not back down from what he said.

How then to account for his popularity? Some of it is his celebrity. He appeared for a long time on television. That is really enough to give him credibility to a lot of people. People who are on television have gotten some sort of golden ticket from the public. Think of all the publicity the Kardashians get. I can’t think of one thing that should make them famous except that they are on television (and have big butts, but by saying that I am moving into Trump territory).

Here is what surprises me the most. Trump, who is a businessman, a purported billionaire — and someone with a reputation for trophy wives (three so far), should have people coming out of the woodwork to tell tales of his business dealings, or his love life, or things he did when he was in school. They did at least two out of the three to Mitt Romney, also a successful businessman. With Romney, the love life, or any kinds of extra-marital business, they could skip. Trump, I am not so sure. He has a thing for young, beautiful women, and with his wealth and fame he can attract them. I would bet he has some dealings with individual women that would cause someone who was wronged by him to come forth and tell the world.

But if and when those things happened (and I have no inside information), either business or pleasure gone wrong, if The Donald was sued, his lawyers would be smart enough to have anyone Trump has paid off sign non-disclosure agreements. Women coming forward a few years ago with stories about Godfather Pizza’s former CEO, Herman Cain, were enough to scuttle his campaign. So far if there are women out there with stories about Trump we haven’t heard from them. They may have been gagged by Trump’s attorneys.

Pictures of Trump and Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, look correct shown together. I detect similar characteristics, not just facially, but in attitude and possible personality issues.

I believe Trump has a personality disorder; he may be a narcissist. He may feel that the presidency is his destiny. He may believe that no matter what he says or does the public will support him. I am surprised that so far no one has really proved him wrong.

Coming into this campaign cycle we have more Republican candidates than we can shake an elephant’s trunk at. Yet none of them, including candidates who were presumptive favorites before Trump entered the race, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush(2), seem to be unable to keep up with Trump in the polls. Bush sounds especially desperate. He has had to go on the attack against Trump, recently claiming that Trump is “not a conservative.” Of course not. Trump is neither conservative nor liberal. He is just a loudmouth with no filter, who loudly proclaims in a hyperbolic manner. I was amused when he said he would deport all illegal immigrants. I have the same answer to that fantasy as I do to those who think Obama will confiscate all the guns in America: there is not an army big enough to pick up all the guns, or deport all the illegals in this country. That is something that is said to play to a base of his fans. Say the most outrageous thing to get people talking, or that plays to their fears or prejudices. It has worked since time immemorial.

Finally, the September 7, 2015 New Yorker has an article on the demise of Atlantic City, NJ(3), and Trump is part of the story. A couple of the quotes struck me, because they show me how at least a couple of his employees saw him. Author Nick Paumgarten quotes Dawn Inglin, a cocktail waitress, who described her former boss with adoration: “When he was there, it was tip-top. You’d’ve thought he was the Messiah.” Another former employee, Kip Brown, who once bussed tables at the Showboat Casino, described an uglier side: “When Donald and Ivana [Trump’s first wife](4) came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor . . . it was the eighties, I was a teen-ager, but I remember they put us all in the back.” The inference from his description is telling.

(1)Trump was a “Fortunate Son,” as in the song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the rich man’s son who gets out of going to war. Trump had a college deferment, and when it ran out he got a 4-F draft classification for a bone spur in his foot. Which foot, Trump claimed he could not remember.

(2)Do we, as a democratic society, really want to elect a third member of the Bush clan? It smacks of royal succession. I would think two would be enough. Maybe someone should propose a law limiting one family to two presidential candidates in a generation.

(3)“The Death and Life of Atlantic City”

(4)Potential voters seem to have forgotten that Trump and Ivana were divorced after Trump’s affair with Marla Maples (who became the second Mrs. Trump). At the time, people were taking the side of the wife. In the 1990 article, “After the Gold Rush”, from Vanity Fair, Trump told author Marie Brenner, “When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of ass — a good one! — there are 50 percent of the population who will love the woman who was left.” In the article Trump revealed that as far back as 1990 he was thinking of running for President, and also of his admiration for Hitler’s ability with propaganda.