Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A face full of vegetables

Megan Kelly, another blowhard from Fox News, defended the cops pepper-spraying passive students at UC Davis. She said pepper-spray is "a food product," vegetable derived. I'll get some pepper-spray and, since it's only food she'll let me spray it in her face. Would she then still think it's a veggie?

Something I notice about the video of the pepper-spraying is how peaceful everyone looks. The first cop is very casual about blasting them, while the students sit with arms linked, taking it. No one jumps up and tries to wrestle it out of the cop's hand, no one from the crowd intercedes. It's very Gandhi-like, very turn-the-other-cheek. It gives all the sympathy to the people on whom the spray was used, and anyone trying to defend police tactics, like the idiots at Fox News, will find themselves shouted down. The cops knew they were being filmed. I'll bet they wonder why everyone is down on them, because they were doing what they were taught to do. Now a couple of them are on administrative leave for it. The UC Davis police chief, whom I saw defending the action in an interview, is also on leave.

I didn't go to college, and even if I had I probably wouldn't have gotten involved in anything that would have earned me a dose of an irritant like Mace or pepper-spray, or especially tear gas. When I was in the Army I went through the tear gas chamber five times. Four times during my two-year hitch, and once at a summer camp for a California National Guard unit, where I spent two weeks on the side of a mountain watching artillery fire. The gas chamber was part of the training, made more relevant in that year of 1970 because National Guardsmen were using tear gas in various student and public demonstrations around the country. The Army wanted all soldiers to be aware of what tear gas—CS gas, in military nomenclature—would do.

I can tell you from first hand experience that tear gas is not good. It burns your eyes, your nose, your throat. It's actually the most unpleasant thing I've ever experienced. And not just once but five times. I told people at the time that I went through more tear gas than people who spent all their time attending demonstrations. My heart goes out to those people at UC Davis who took the pepper-spraying from close up and did nothing, but they probably helped future demonstrators. Nothing changes policy like the bright hot spotlight.

I'll bet when that campus cops went to work that day none of them thought, "I'm going to get on YouTube today by giving a bunch of peaceful protesters a face full of pepper-spray." It was probably all within the guidelines of their duties, as they understood them. But they'll be forever seen as bullies rather than police officers in performance of those duties, and that's in spite of any acquittal that may come about at a hearing in months to come.

The clichéd expression "teachable moment" comes to mind. That video can be used as a training tool for police departments in how not to react to peaceful people who refuse to move. I've noticed that more and more since these so-called non-lethal methods of crowd control were invented cops are much more likely to use them when the situation may call for more restraint than action. Tasers, pepper-spray and even rubber bullets sometimes seem more like the tools of sadists rather than law enforcement tools by those hired to be serving and protecting.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy birthday, Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson was born 27 years ago today in New York City. Happy birthday, Scarlett!


The JFK-UFO connection

Today is the 48th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

When I saw the book, JFK & UFO by Kenn Thomas, I knew it was a must-read for me. Two of my favorite conspiracy theories, the Kennedy assassination and flying saucers! Published by Feral House, one of my favorite publishers! How could I resist? I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled in for a couple of hours.

I was initially disappointed because the book is less about wild conspiracy theories than what is actually known about such incidents as the Maury Island, Washington, UFO sightings of June, 1947, Kenneth Arnold’s UFO sightings over the Cascades in Washington on June 24, 1947, and how a principal in the Maury Island sightings, Fred Lee Crisman, figured in years later with the JFK killing.

Some ufologists believe the Maury Island sightings were a hoax, but many believe they were real. Crisman and Harold Dahl claimed they saw a flight of UFOs. One disintegrated and left debris, white metal and slag. Two Air Force Intelligence officers flew to the island, picked up samples of the debris, and then were killed when their plane crashed shortly after. The Maury Island story is one that has been debated for decades.

Over the years Fred Lee Crisman held a variety of jobs, including high school teacher, industrial psychologist, and a right-wing radio host using the name Jon Gold. There is doubt as to whether Crisman was actually a member of the wartime OSS and then its successor, the CIA, as has been claimed. Crisman is tied to the Kennedy assassination. There is a photo (shown in JFK & UFO of three “tramps” arrested right after the incident, and one of the “tramps” has been identified by some as Crisman. Crisman was subpoenaed by Jim Garrison when Garrison accused Clay Shaw of the plot to kill JFK. You may remember that story from the Oliver Stone movie version, JFK.

From JFK & UFO. Copyright © 2011 Kenneth Thomas.

Crisman’s right-wing radio show was on a station in Tacoma, Washington, where he achieved some notoriety for his fight with the local Tacoma government.

The story gets truly strange when it gets into the connection with Crisman to Amazing Stories, that pulp magazine’s editor Ray Palmer, and the Shaver Mystery hoax, as promoted by Palmer from the delusional writings of Richard S. Shaver.

(Palmer has a connection to UFO mythology, as told by author John Keel in his essay, "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers".)

Thomas presents some tantalizing material, including documents provided under the Freedom of Information Act, as well as some interviews with people who are knowledgeable about the Maury Island case, and about Crisman.

One of the reasons UFOs and JFK are my favorite conspiracies is because when talking about either you have several theories from which to choose. If you want to believe UFOs are military weapons being tested secretly, that’s fine. Or Nazi-designed secret weapons, that's OK, too. Gray men from another planet who are conducting medical experiments on abductees, why, go right on ahead. There's room for every wild story or inventive fantasy imaginable.

Likewise the assassination of JFK. If you don't believe the Warren Commission that Lee Oswald was the lone killer, you have a lot of other theories to choose from: Mafia, Cuban revenge, the CIA (everyone's favorite government villain), or right-wingers like Fred Crisman in cahoots with Clay Shaw. Personally, while I like to read about them, I'm too much a skeptic to believe in any of them.

Despite the disappointment in not getting some sort of wild-eyed conspiracy theories with JFK & UFO, I got some actual food for thought, an interesting story not told in mainstream media.

I’m a fan of Feral House, the publisher. I will read anything they publish. Their catalog is full of eclectic books not found anywhere else. So far I’ve never been bored by any of their books. When I see their colophon I jump at the book. But the layout and editing problems with JFK & UFO make me wonder if there is an editor at Feral House who goes through the manuscript, or whether they just print what the author supplies them. The use of sidebars is clumsy; I had to read the chapters and then go back and read sidebars that were continued over several pages. The sidebars should have just been presented as chapters of their own. There are several typos that should have been caught. This has the look of a book presented press-ready without any sort of editorial intermediary along the way. That bothers me. Also, there are references cited in end notes for each chapter, but there is no index, which I believe is necessary with so many characters involved.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Newtron bomb

In over a half century of observations I've noticed that when Americans take to the streets in large numbers they are very angry, and people in power should never misunderstand or dismiss that anger. The anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s were both vilified by the established order, called "communist" and "un-American," yet those movements swelled. The anger that had caused them seeped into the general public, who eventually realized the protests were legitimate. Far from being un-American, the protesters were acting in a great tradition of democracy.

Yesterday I watched Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich flapping his mouth, saying the Occupiers should, "Get a job! After you take a bath." I haven't been so angered something coming from a politician's cake-hole in a long time, and I've heard a lot this past year to raise my personal ire. Gingrich's command to "get a job," means he thinks jobs are out there to be had (from those billionaire "job creators" you Republicans tout, eh, Newt?) The second is about personal hygiene, which is hard to maintain while in tents. I should know; I spent time in the U.S. Army living in tents and foxholes, and yes, I definitely needed a bath. I'll bet it's been a long time, if ever, that you suffered any personal discomfort, right, Newt?

The civil rights era and anti-war movement of the 1960s have both passed into history, with those who supported them considered now to be on the right side of history. What makes the Republicans, who are so baldly trying to protect their monied friends–the 1% who control over 40% of the nation's wealth from the 99% who divvy up the scraps–think they'll come out of this on the right side? Outrage at inequities in our system is what fuels the protests, and the Republicans are working to keep those inequities intact. Every one of the Republican Presidential candidates has spoken out against the protesters.

While that makes me more determined to work against any of them in their run for the President, I'm also disappointed in our sitting President, who is lukewarm at best in response to the protests.

Something else has struck me about the Occupiers: why was it just fine for the Egyptians, Libyans or Syrians to occupy public places to protest their oppressive governments, but not OK for Americans to occupy public spaces to protest an inequitable and corrupt financial system? The hypocrisy in all of this is mind-boggling.

Newt Gingrich, with his "Get a job!" and "...take a bath" reminds me of the famous, "let them eat cake." I've read that the quote has been misattributed to Marie Antoinette, but even so it has a broader meaning, the disdain of the rich for the common folks. That sentiment has been shown over and over again this past year by Republican leadership.

Newt was in trouble in the 1990s, too, as this page by Mad great Al Jaffee shows.

Whoever the Republicans nominate for President better be careful what he says. There's no telling where a movement like this could lead if policies aren't changed. The sight of heavily armed police using batons and pepper spray on unarmed protesters is already all over the Internet, and if unaddressed by political leaders could have serious ramifications. The protesters aren't just protesters...they are also voters, and get enough of them in a bloc and comments like those made by Republicans since the Occupy movements began will come back on them in a very American way. They'll be voted out.


Monday, November 14, 2011

In Cloud Cuckooland Mitt der Republicans

The dog-and-pony show called the Republican presidential nomination process goes on, via endless, yet sometimes entertaining debates. Republicans in Congress continue to scuttle President Obama by taking the jobs legislation he has asked for, voting it down, then blaming him. It's perfect Republican thinking. Up is down, down up. By voting against what 90% of the public wants they are doing the public a favor. In 2011 Republicans have given up their American citizenship to become citizens of Cloud Cuckooland, and their presidential candidates reflect the goofiness.

The word is out that the Republican establishment, especially conservatives and tea party types, think of the drawn out nomination process as trying to find someone other than Mitt Romney as their 2012 nominee. The evangelical voters are especially anti-Romney and anti-Mormon. Romney leads in most polls but never by much. Huntsman, another Mormon, was a popular governor before leaving office to be Obama's ambassador to China. His non-starter candidacy has probably been tainted by that, and he's usually last in the polls.

Both Latter-day Saints candidates were born to privilege and wealth. Romney's dad, George, was president of American Motors before his abortive presidential campaign in 1968. Huntsman's father, Jon Huntsman, Sr., is a billionaire industrialist, whose fortune was made by those styrofoam clamshells in which McDonald's used to put their hamburgers. Huntsman the elder has branched out into other areas now that the styrofoam has gone the way of other earth-unfriendly packaging, but he's still worth billions. Huntsman the younger has the money to diddle about in politics, and doesn't need to work. Huntsman Senior also funds the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and is known for his charitable works.

There's nothing wrong with wealth, per se, but neither Romney or Huntsman are "common people."


For television's sake, and the short attention span of the public, we live with sound bites rather than substance. The stories that make the evening news have to do with gaffes or flubs. In a recent debate Rick Perry couldn't remember one of the three federal agencies he wanted to abolish, and that got a great deal of play on TV. What got my attention, and much more important, was the endorsement of torture by both Herman Cain and Michele Bachman. You'd want one of these people as President, wouldn't you? (Shudder.) Herman Cain, who used the Bush-era term "enhanced interrogation technique" to describe waterboarding also said he'd turn over the decision to use torture to the military, rather than to civilians. Not the way we do it in this country, Godfather! Turning over ultimate control of anything to the military is like inviting them to come in the Oval Office, shoot the President and take over the country. Okay, that's extreme paranoia, but it's happened in so many countries around the world it's not like it isn't a possibility.

Saying they don't mind one form of torture shows me they probably wouldn't mind using other forms of torture. Torture is one of those activities we associate with dictators, absolute monarchs and psycho serial killers, not with democratically elected governments. At least not out in the open. (I have a lot of problems with turning prisoners over to other countries with a history of torture for interrogation, then taking the results but washing our hands of the sin.)

For once Herman Cain may be glad to be out of the media spotlight. The story of his sexual harassment of former female employees got a lot of play, and his approval rating is dropping precipitously. But his harassment story was supplanted by the child abuse sex scandal at Penn State University. The public doesn't see sexual harassment as being as serious as men raping little boys, which is cause for murderous public outrage. In the Penn State case former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested for having sex with a young boy in the locker room shower, and another coach is in trouble for not calling he police when he witnessed the crime. A popular head coach (did I say popular? I mean godlike) was fired, as was the University president. Herman Cain and his advisors might be the only people in the country who are glad the story broke in time to take some heat away from them.

Hey, know how other prisoners feel about child molesters?


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Happy birthday, Anne Hathaway

Anne Jacqueline Hathaway, American actress, born 29 years ago today in Brooklyn, New York. Happy birthday, Anne!


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Vivian Maier, Street Photographer

I'd like you to invite you to visit for a look into the street photos of a very gifted photographer, Vivian Maier. I'd liken her work to Diane Arbus or Weegee. She was a person with an obsession for pictures, but who kept the pictures to herself.

Maier worked as a nanny in Chicago and New York. She is described as having been a free spirit and eccentric. She's deceased now, and her pictures were discovered when her storage locker went up for auction in 2007. Thousands of negatives were discovered, and luckily discoverer John Maloof understood what he had found. But he didn't have the name of the photographer until he found it scrawled on a piece of paper with the pictures. He was able to track her story from there. Maier, who was destitute toward the end of her life, was helped by three of the people for whom she had been a nanny, who then became her caregivers.

When I see pictures like these--and I hope you'll go to the portfolios section of the web site and look for yourself--I wonder why they weren't shown during her lifetime. I can speculate, but that's all. Was it fear of rejection? Fear of fame? For decades she found the unusual on the streets of the two biggest cities in America. She had to know how good her photos were.

Maybe it's almost better to discover someone's art after they die and you can put your own interpretation to it. These pictures taken during the early to mid-1950s conjure up stories in my head.

There is a book coming out. Vivian Maier Street Photographer will be released November 22, 2011.


Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Happy birthday, Bonnie and Bonnie

It's a bonnie day in November!

Bonnie Bramlett is 67 today.

Bonnie Raitt is 62 today.

I'm dedicating this to my wife, Sally, who loves Bonnie, Norah Jones and "The Tennessee Waltz."


Cain Unable

If this isn't the best and brightest Republican bunch now scrambling for the 2012 presidential nomination, it's at least one of the more entertaining. I haven't been as interested in a slate of candidates in years. Right now we're watching them slowly disintegrate, each candidate in turn committing gaffes or having background that hurts them. Having skeletons in the closet may be a cliché, but is an apt metaphor.

The latest is Herman Cain, who has some bone-rattling sexual harassment charges from 15 years ago coming back to haunt him. As I write this the big news is that an accuser went before the cameras to tell her story of some unwanted groping by Cain.

Cain hasn't helped himself by being evasive at first, even lying outright about his memory of the events.

Cain has been a darling of the tea party for his conservatism, but some of his statements are outrageous. His view that if a person isn't rich it's "his own fault" is totally odd. As if people don't have enough problems to kick themselves over, now Cain says being middle class, and accepting it, is a fault. I can't believe his supporters would let him get away with this backhanded slap, but apparently they have.

I give credit to Herman Cain for being an entrepreneur who made his riches selling pizza. It's hard building a nationwide franchise, but when it's successful and the public supports the brand, it can be a gold mine. Cain was a VP at Burger King when he went off to become the pizza Godfather.

I give credit to Cain for polling number one as a candidate for several weeks. I'm sorry to bring up race, but it's necessary. An African-American polling above the other candidates, all of whom are white, is amazing. Americans are obsessed with race, and for a segment of the population such as white conservatives to have put Cain in such a place seems completely against the grain of everything I've observed about American politics in the past 50 years. That's even discounting the 2008 election of the mixed-race Barack Obama.

Whether Cain's support stays after the latest allegations, though, will tell whether he stays acceptable to his base. Right now that base believes the allegations are cooked up by the liberal media to smear him. They listen to an awful lot of right wing talk radio, where everything against their chosen few is a nasty leftist plot.

A couple of the women who claimed sexual harassment are unnamed (so far), and have signed confidentiality agreements as part of their legal settlement. Cain's latest accuser didn't seek any legal remedies to being groped, as she explained, because she didn't work for the National Restaurant Association where Cain was president. She could have gone to the police, but that was her choice. Most sexual assaults aren't reported, I'm sorry to say. She probably thought it was best to just go on with her life. Her silence may have fed into Cain's delusion that these incidents were minor, and wouldn't come back later to bite him. He might have trivialized them in his mind, or believed that the confidentiality agreements were enough to protect him from having to explain himself. He was wrong on all those things. He is also wrong to try to shut reporters up when they ask him questions about the allegations. He isn't a CEO now. He doesn't command anyone to do anything, especially reporters, who aren't about to lay back and let a big juicy story like this go away.

He may be the godfather, but he's no gangsta, and doesn't intimidate the press.


Monday, November 07, 2011

Rock 'n' roll itchycoo

I haven't meant to turn my blog over to YouTube, but I've had this post in the hopper for a couple of months, and wanted to finally get it online.

My brother and I had some songs we liked way back when; he asked me about Seatrain's "13 Questions" and I found it. He also asked me about "Keep On Smilin'" by Wet Willie, which I also found.

The others are songs that we both liked at one time or another.

I've shown "Itchycoo Park" by Small Faces before, but so what...I like the song.

Here's my standard disclaimer: If any of the screens are dark it's because YouTube has yanked the video for whatever reason they deem necessary. It happens, but I don't like any more than you do.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"Burning out his fuse up here alone..."

The current (as of November, 2011, anyway) Volkswagen Passat commercial uses the Elton John song, "Rocket Man," to sell us on the clarity of the car's sound system..."Is that what he's saying?" to the lyric, "Burning out his fuse up here alone." I didn't know that was what he was saying. But then, some songs aren't known for clarity in lyrics, but for evoking a mood or feeling.

"Rocket Man" takes me back to a specific time and place. I'm not even that big an Elton John fan, but his music has been part of the Baby Boomer soundtrack for 40 years, and impossible to ignore.

(If the frame is black it's because YouTube has pulled the video for copyright reasons. Bummer, but they do that sometimes.)