Friday, April 30, 2010

Never steal anything small

I watched the notorious Goldman Sachs gang testify to the Congress. I'm always amazed when I see a well groomed, cleancut group like this, knowing they have committed anti-social acts. All they need are pinstripe suits, black shirts, white ties, and tommy guns. A couple of gun molls would complete the picture.

In the past decade or so we've seen some audacious acts committed by business people, Enron, Bernard Madoff, Goldman Sachs. Not of the men who commit these acts would walk into a convenience store and at the point of a gun order the clerk to give them money. Maybe it's the anonymity of their victims that makes it easier. I think if I were a person who stole, I'd find it easier, more soothing to my conscience, to do it long distance rather than up close. That way I wouldn't have to see the terrified looks of my victims.

I'm not letting Congress off the hook. Too many members of this legislative body have used their seats to get money. Has there ever been a congressman or senator who died poor? I don't know, but I don't think so. They bear some responsibility for not passing legislation against the (legal but immoral) acts that allowed the crime to be committed.

I got conflicting messages from my parents about crime. My mom didn't want me to watch crime programs on television, or read books about criminals lest I become one. My dad, who was a businessman, told me, "Never steal anything small." I'm pretty sure he was joking. I hope so, anyway. But even Dad would have been aghast at what modern day criminals can steal. "White collar crime" is a misnomer. Crime is crime. I like the old Woody Guthrie song, "The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd." I don't care for him romanticizing a criminal, but there is a verse in the song that's appropriate:

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

Here's a version of the song I like, sung by Tracy Clark:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Life of crime: movie censorship in 1946

An article from the October 28, 1946 issue of Life explains movie censorship of the time. The picture on the first page is a joking example of what couldn't be shown in a movie in 1946. We've come a long way in 65 years, and depending on your outlook, maybe not for the better.

On one hand I believe in censorship. I wouldn't want my grandkids looking at sexually explicit or violent material, but on the other hand I don't believe in censoring what I see or what any other adult sees. I think it's up to us to make our own decisions. Movies, which in the 1960s abandoned an overall self-censoring policy, went to a ratings system. It doesn't censor, but doesn't always work in what I think is a logical fashion. It's constantly being tinkered with, and I think it has to do with whomever is sitting on the ratings board and their interpretation.

I find violence much more distasteful than sex, and I always wonder why movies like the Saw franchise, with gory tortures, can get an R-rating. It isn't logical to me. I have always wondered why, as a society, we condone violence, making murder into entertainment, and yet sex, which is a legal activity between consenting people of legal age, is relegated to the forbidden.

The article is interesting because of the inroads that sex and pornography have made in the past five or sex decades. It's now widely and instantly available, with no need to hang out at sleazy adult bookstores or XXX movie theaters to see it. The article also shows that for decades Americans were widely, and rightly, viewed as prudish by Europeans, who have a much more adult view of adult activities.

This sexy shave cream ad followed the article on movie censorship. Life magazine was a popular mainstream publication, going into millions of homes where anyone in the family could look at it. Their standards of what was acceptable to be seen by the general public was different than movie standards.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Happy birthday, Alan Price

It's Alan Price's birthday today; Alan was one of the founders of the Animals, an important group from the British Invasion during the time of Beatlemania in 1964 and '65.

That's Alan whipping out the incomparable electric organ solo on "House Of the Rising Sun," a huge hit of the day. Unfortunately, his solo was edited from the single played on radio, but you can see it here from a color film of the song.

Eric Burdon is singing lead. The big guy is Chas Chandler, who went into producing music and introduced Jimi Hendrix to the world. The Animals was an all-around great band, with three elements I think keep their songs sounding great even today: Burdon's powerful voice, Chandler's great bass lines, and Price's inspired playing.

Vocally, Price could belt it out, too, as shown in his version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You." Price was also one of the first artists to cover the uniquely eccentric American songwriter Randy Newman, here with "Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear."

So, happy 68th birthday Alan!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Step back and look at the future

I like looking at old magazines for a look at the way we Americans were as a culture, especially in the early half of the Twentieth Century.
I found these looks at the future in 1940s issues of Life, made available on Google Books online. An ad asks the reader to, "Imagine Bob Hope on television!" At that time television was right around the corner. Work on bringing television to the public had been going on since the 1920s, but was suspended during the war. The postwar world was ready for television, not just to see Bob Hope.

I believe many people in this country were like my mother, who, bless her, didn't have interest in anything that might be coming down the pike, affecting her future. As she put it, "Television...I didn't know anything about it. Hadn't heard anything about it. Then one day I looked and it was just there."

Television technology of the 1940s is long gone, replaced by digital.

There was a certain optimism to the future in those postwar days. A lot of predictions were fanciful: paper clothes, or personal helicopter/cars zipping us to work (both ideas abandoned, apparently). Rocket ships to the moon were a topic, and that happened. When I was growing up in the 1950s I was impatient for humans to go into space, but didn't think they'd land on the moon for decades to come. Nowadays we have a debate on whether or not to go back to the moon, or what our longterm goals are for space. We use space to do things on earth: communication, weather, spy satellites etc., telescopes to see into the past with light reaching us from millions of years ago, helping our understanding of the universe.

I'd like to see us go back to the moon, or to Mars, but I think it's a way off, and perhaps some private entrepreneurs will find a way to do it cheaper than the government.

Above is a 1946 vision by artist Chesley Bonestell on what a trip to the moon would look like. He was the first artist I remember to draw earth as it would actually appear from space, and not like a classroom globe. His paintings filled me with a sense of wonder.

The 1944 Canadian Whiskey ad for the fax machine/Internet/cable news channel television set seems eerily close to what happened 50 years after the ad saw print. Except for printing off our online newspapers "overnight" the ad is pretty close, close enough to call it prophetic. I never saw any of the Internet or communications technology being as big a part of our lives as it has become. But for every postwar prediction of future life that came true in some form or another, there are a hundred that didn't. That's because the predictions didn't take into account the costs, which have stopped many a project in its tracks.

Friday, April 16, 2010

This ain't Sam Snead...

This is the Peanuts daily strip from yesterday, April 15, 2010. It was first published in the early 1960s. It's also part of a synchronistic event. In the strip Sally says she's borrowed a book from the library on Sam Snead. My wife, Sally, and I were talking about Sam Snead on Sunday, while watching the golf tournament.

We weren't talking about Sam Snead, the man, but about an incident from the early years of our marriage. In 1971 we were friends with Hal and Lois (not their real names). They had a 7-year-old boy, Richie. Hal and Lois picked us up on a Saturday night for a date at Shakey's Pizza. On the way to the restaurant Hal stopped and took Richie into his mother's house, where he'd stay for a couple of hours while we ate dinner.

Shakey's was a pizza chain. Live music was played, usually some guy playing a honkytonk piano, while customers sang along. Beer was by the pitcher. Hal and Lois were both testy; they'd been grousing at each other all night over one thing or another. They weren't usually contentious around us, but either one could occasionally flare up. One pitcher of beer between the four of us became another pitcher of beer, and Lois was a bit loaded. The piano player played "God Bless America," and most of the people in the place stood up to sing along. Hal remained seated. So did we. Standing is done during the national anthem, not "God Bless America." Lois, on her feet, yelled at Hal, "Stand up, goddammit!" He said, "I don't have to. You don't stand up for this song."

They got into a shouting match over whether standing during that song was appropriate, and Lois yelled at Hal, "I hope they send you to Vietnam and shoot your ass off!" That was below the belt. Hal wasn't drafted because he had a married father deferment. Hal and Lois bickered during the ride home. Sally and I sat in the back seat, embarrassed by the display. At one point when Lois was saying something to Hal he snapped, "Shut your yap!" A funny expression, just not funny at that moment.

At Hal's mom's house both Hal and Lois went in to pick up Richie. They were in there for quite a long time. Sally and I wondered what was going on. The front door banged open and Lois came running out, followed by Hal. I don't know exactly what happened because it was dark, but the next thing we saw was Lois on the ground, screaming, and Hal standing over her yelling, "THIS AIN'T SAM SNEAD YOU'RE FOOLIN' WITH, BABY!"

Sam...Snead? Sally and I looked at each other in bewilderment. Did he say...Sam Snead? Hal and Lois went back into the house, and a few minutes later they brought out Richie. We drove the rest of the way in silence. We never did learn what Hal meant by invoking the name of golf legend Sam Snead. The closest I could come in my mind was Sam Spade, from The Maltese Falcon, a 1940 movie with Humphrey Bogart.

Every once in a while Sally will say something and I'll respond, "This ain't Sam Snead you're foolin' with, baby!"

Peanuts creator Charles Schulz could have invoked any one of a roster of golf greats, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, et al., but he chose Sam Snead because Snead's name sounds funnier. Schulz could tweak any sort of humorous situation and give it a little extra. I'm not sure about Hal, but maybe in the heat of the moment that's what he was doing, too.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sin, repentance, forgiveness: Tiger de-clawed

Tiger mistress Loredana Jolie Ferriola.

Watching Tiger Woods play at the Masters Tournament--and yeah, I sometimes watch golf on TV--I'm reminded of the cycles of sin, repentance and forgiveness in our society. Tiger, whose indiscretions with women have been getting far too much media coverage, is in the part of the cycle where he's admitted wrongdoing, "gotten help" in a rehab center (for what? No one has said exactly what the help is for. Sex addiction?) and is now back in public doing his job, playing golf. According to what I've seen, so far his return seems to be orderly, even with all the media attention.

Going to the restaurant for a bite. Tiger's restaurant hostess Mindy Lawton.

Every year public figures, celebrities, politicians, religious figures, get caught with their trousers down, and there is a process to go through after the initial scandal. Tiger's public relations blitz has gone into high gear to get his image back to what it was before he was caught prowling about with his groupies. That will be hard, but not impossible. First off, the public is more understanding about this sort of thing nowadays, since we see these stories repeated over and over. Frankly, we're titillated, but we get bored easily, so public attention moves on to the next story very quickly. Time helps.

There's the stage where the bad boy gets professional therapy and help. Tiger did that.

Then he pleads that he has repented of his evil ways. Tiger did that in February in a press conference where he looked so wooden he could have been a puppet. Every word he read from the script sounded like it had been gone over several times by media savvy advisors and lawyers. Despite his stiffness, public contrition is a good thing to help an image.

In Tiger's case, if getting caught was a bogey, then the rehab was a birdie, and the public confession was an eagle. Coming back to golf to cheers and love from his fans is like winning a tournament. It means that in the public's eyes he's gone through the proper steps to allow his readmission to respect.

Well, kind of. He'll still be the butt of jokes, and he'll hate that, but he'll just have to think back to who caused the problem in the first place and he can put the blame back where it belongs, on himself. You can't have the image of being a family man and at the same time be thought of as a superstud with a bimbo in every city. Some celebrities, rock stars, for instance, we expect that. There's no forgiveness or shock there, because that seems to be part of the business. Athletes are a mixed bag. The ones who are married have big problems when they are caught straying, we shrug off the scandal of the unmarried.

I'm thinking of American athletes who've had their images dragged through the briars and brambles of public exposure. Basketball stars Kobe Bryant, rape. Magic Johnson, HIV. Boxer Mike Tyson, a couple of stints in prison for rape and other assorted crimes. Football player O. J. Simpson, murder. In the case of the first two, Bryant and Johnson's images have been fully rehabilitated. Mike Tyson is out of prison and has a so-so reputation. The tough dumb guy, he took too many blows to the head, so he's been more-or-less accepted back to a degree. He's more of a clown, now. O. J. Simpson won a not guilty verdict in court, but not in the court of public opinion, and his image is forever tarnished.

I could go on and on. The most scandalous cheater of all was President Bill Clinton, who got oral sex from an intern. It was all over the news in pornographic detail every day. Clinton went through some of the steps of regaining public respect and it has apparently worked. When he was given the job (with former president George W. Bush) of going to Haiti to oversee aid efforts there was no mention of his past scandals. But other politicians haven't fared so well. When I wrote that the image of John F. Kennedy, legendary for his roving eye, popped into my head, but all his sexual peccadilloes came out long after his death and don't seem to have harmed his image.

The best way for any man--or woman--to avoid the scandal of extramarital affairs is to simply not have them. My other advice is just take the situation in hand, as the old joke goes. Beat off. You'll get that tension out of you and you won't get into mischief and trouble. After all, if you have sex with someone else they can tell on you; you have sex with yourself, well,'re the only witness.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

American Tragedy

Like a couple of hundred million other Americans, in the mid-1990s I was riveted by the story of O.J. Simpson. This former football superstar, then movie actor and television pitchman for Hertz car rentals, was being prosecuted for murdering his former wife, Nicole, and a male, Ron Goldman, who had accompanied her on the night they were killed.

I probably don't have to go through any of the details of this case, and if you're new to it or need a refresher, you can find a good overview of it here.

The book, American Tragedy by Lawrence Schiller and James Willwerth, published in 1996, is the story of the defense of O.J. Simpson, and the subsequent acquittal on the charges of murder. During the time the trial was going on we were bombarded by television and news stories discussing the trivia of the case, what witnesses said what, attorneys on Court TV blathering on for hours about evidence, testimony, blah blah blah. We were so inundated that by the time the "not guilty" verdict was read I couldn't have cared what happened to him. I just wanted it to be over.

But it's been long enough now that I can read about it. Unlike many other white people in America, I really hadn't made up my mind that Simpson was guilty of murdering his ex-wife and Ron Goldman. Nowadays I'd lean more to guilt than innocence, so one of the things I found interesting about American Tragedy is that even Simpson's staunchest supporters on the defense team had a suspicion he was guilty. But their job was to defend him and get him acquitted. The way they did it was to show that the LA Police Department had racist, rogue cops who, the defense claimed, planted evidence.

At the time the country was split into two camps: whites who were sure Simpson was guilty, and African-Americans, who, having had their own problems with the American justice system, were sure he was another black man being found guilty just because he was black. The case hung on the conduct of the police, though, and ultimately the defense was able to plant enough reasonable doubt in the (mostly black) jury that the cops, forensics lab, and prosecution witnesses were all tainted by ineptitude or corruption.

O.J. Simpson walked out of the courtroom with a "not guilty" verdict, but he wasn't found not guilty by most of the people in this country, and I doubt he had a day where he wasn't reminded of it. So his wish to not only be found not guilty but exonerated and win back his status, was only 50% realized.

A few years ago an armed Simpson and some friends broke into a hotel room in Las Vegas, and threatened some people there. Simpson said they had some of his memorabilia illegally and he wanted it back. The incident showed that Simpson, as people had said during his murder trial, was capable of violence. Simpson was sent to prison where he now sits. Read about the verdict here.

Unless Simpson were to step up and confess to murdering his wife and Ron Goldman, or someone else come forward and confess to the crimes to everyone's satisfaction, Simpson will go down in infamy as the guy who got away with murder. I'm sure 100 years from now, like the Lizzie Borden case of the 1890s, the Simpson case will still be the subject of public interest. There'll be books discussing the pros and cons of his guilt. I really believe that one of the most honest and telling books about the whole case is American Tragedy, which shows how little of American justice is actually based on a person's guilt or innocence, but on extraneous factors.

One final thing: at the time of his arrest in 1994, there was a flap over the mug shot of Simpson, shown on the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines. Time darkened the photo, which made Simpson look more sinister.

I felt the same way when I saw the back of the dust jacket of American Tragedy. I lightened it with my photo editing software, and even so it is a disturbing portrait of Simpson.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

"I wanna Easta egg!"

My grandkids saw the Easter bunny...or at least a facsimile, a guy in a big bunny suit, at a store last year. They were spooked. To a 2 1/2 and 4-year-old a big rabbit wearing a vest and carrying a basket seemed pretty weird.

When David told them that the Easter bunny would be leaving them baskets of goodies, and they'd wake up to them on Easter morning, their reaction was, "He's not coming in the house, is he?"

David assured them that he'd meet the Easter bunny at the door and the bunny could hand over the baskets without coming in the house.

David called us on Skype this morning. The kids were excited about getting new dresses for Easter, and of course anticipating that Easter basket. Kids find out real quick about how cool it is to get presents on special occasions, but there wasn't any word on how they felt about the Easter bunny coming to call. They're a year older, and more into holidays, but I'm sure they'd still prefer the Easter bunny stay outside and just hand the baskets to their daddy without stepping into the house.

I don't remember a time when I believed in the Easter bunny. Maybe I had a similar experience to my granddaughters, and it was so horrific I've shut it out of memory.

But...have a happy Easter, everyone.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Happy birthday, Emmy Lou!

My son couldn't have been more than three when I pulled out an Emmy Lou Harris vinyl LP to play on my stereo, circa 1980. "Pretty girl, Daddy!" he said when he saw the cover.

Emmy Lou, shown here in a 1977 video when she was 30, and in a 2007 video when she was 60, hasn't changed much over the years. Her hair is silver, but her voice is still gold. She gives me goosebumps no matter what she's singing, whether it's a country classic like "Together Again" or a Paul McCartney song, "For No One."

And so you know how I feel about Emmy Lou at 63, she's still a pretty girl.