Tuesday, September 27, 2011


The case of missing Utah woman Susan Powell gets "curiouser and curiouser."

Powell disappeared in December, 2009, after her husband, Josh, claimed he and his two young sons had been camping on the coldest night of the year and returned home to find her missing. Within a few weeks Josh closed up their home and moved himself and his children to his father's home in Puyallup, Washington, casting suspicion on himself. As people speculated at the time, "He knows she's not coming home." Josh has also refused to speak with West Valley City, Utah police, or to join in any of the searches for Susan.

Within the past couple of months, with much fanfare and media attention, West Valley City police have investigated some old mines near Ely, Nevada, without results, and a large area near Topaz Mountain in Utah, where cadaver-sniffing dogs indicated a body was buried. Nothing was found but some burned wood chips. Police and volunteers searched for several days but found no human remains.

After the Ely expedition, and before going to Topaz Mountain, West Valley police in conjunction with police in Washington served search warrants at the home of Susan's husband, Josh, and his father, Steve Powell. Steve Powell had been saying some things that made everyone sit up and take notice. He claimed he had a relationship with his daughter-in-law, Susan, that they flirted and she came on to him sexually. Susan's friends and family claimed the opposite, that Steve Powell made Susan uncomfortable, that she and Josh moved to Utah to get away from him. When police seized Steve Powell's computers and other materials they found thousands of pornographic pictures of children, as well as voyeuristic photos he'd taken of neighbor children. Even, according to the story, some of Susan.

You can read more about it in a newspaper article here.

Susan's father-in-law, Steve Powell.

After his computers were seized Powell admitted without elaborating that they contained embarrassing things. He said that he should have gotten rid of them. After viewing the contents of his computer it took until last Friday for the law to move in and arrest him. But police had served a couple of search warrants previously and his computers were left untouched. He probably thought they weren't interested. It was the announcement from Steve and Josh Powell that they were going to publish excerpts from Susan's teenage diaries that galvanized the action against him. The diary entries were supposed to show that Susan was unstable. Susan's parents sued, and a judge agreed: no diary excerpts were to be published.

Josh and Steve's Susan Powell website is full of accusations about Susan's family and friends: link to it here.

Missing from the website since I checked it a few weeks ago was a bizarre timeline which attempted to draw a connection between Susan and another missing Utahn, Steven Koechner, who disappeared at the same time as Susan. Koechner was last seen in Nevada. According to Susan's family, she wasn't capable of running off with another man and leaving her young children. It's an interesting coincidence that they both disappeared at the same time, but so far no evidence it's more than just that, a coincidence. (There's also no direct evidence Susan is dead, either.)

Steve Powell is in jail for the child porn, with bail set for $200,000 cash. He worked for the Washington State Dept. of Corrections and lost his job after his arrest. With these new revelations talk is going around that Steve Powell had something to do with Susan's disappearance. As far as I know, Steve Powell wasn't in Utah when Susan disappeared. Some people have a capacity to put two and two together and come up with five, and it all makes sense to them. My feeling is that no matter what images someone has on his computer, how they felt about someone as Steve admitted feeling about his daughter-in-law, or how creepy the whole situation is it doesn't make him a murderer. That doesn't stop the gossip, though.

Susan's husband, Joshua Powell

Adding this to an already inflammatory situation doesn't help the Powells' case. Today Josh was in juvenile court, attempting to get his children back. At one point he said his father's bail was so high he wouldn't be getting out of jail. The implication is the kids will be safe without the elder Powell in the house. Were they in danger all this year, living in the house with him?

Besides having child porn, Steve allegedly took secret telescopic pictures of his neighbors through their windows. Even if he were to return home I'm sure there wouldn't be a block party with happy neighbors to welcome him back. There might be a party, but it could include a rope, or at least a barrel of bubbling tar and a sack full of feathers.


Monday, September 26, 2011

The hoarding horror

Hoarding is a form of mental illness, but it's not clear just what it is related to. Most mental health professionals believe it is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, although it doesn't respond to the same drugs. Some believe it may be related to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It's been used as a basis for several reality TV shows. I've never watched them, although I've watched American Pickers, which is a variation, and never mentions mental illness. The properties Mike and Frank visit to pick through to buy items for resale look like they're owned by hoarders.

The most famous hoarder story is probably that of Homer and Langley Collyer, who died in 1947 amidst 130 tons of trash in their decaying old brownstone in Harlem. Homer, the older of the two, had gone blind and was cared for by Langley, who had some bizarre ideas. Langley thought he could restore his brother's sight by feeding him dozens of oranges a week. Langley went out at night scrounging for food and trash to bring back to the house. He stockpiled newspapers, because he was sure when Homer's sight came back he'd want to catch up on all that had happened since he went blind.

The urban legend in New York at the time had the brothers sitting on stockpiled wealth in their house. Harlem had become African-American, and it's implied in the articles I've read that the brothers were probably fearful in their neighborhood. They had many break-ins and Langley booby-trapped the place. In the April 7, 1947 Life magazine article below, at the time of publication Langley's body had not yet been found. It was found under one of his own booby traps on April 8, 1947, partially eaten by rats. After Langley died Homer died of starvation, dehydration and cardiac arrest. It was a freak show at the time, and has lived on in various forms ever since. It's a horror story of the ultimate price of hoarding.

The comic book version is from The Big Book Of Weirdos, published in 1995 by Paradox Press, written by Carl Posey, drawn by Graham Manley, and edited by horror-humorist Gahan Wilson.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Leiber & Stoller

Jerry Leiber, with his songwriting partner, Mike Stoller, helped create rock 'n' roll music in America. It soon spread to the rest of the world. When the duo teamed up in 1950 it was with the idea to write for black rhythm and blues artists.

Since then their hit songs have been everywhere. I think of three great songwriting teams of the Twentieth Century: George and Ira Gershwin, Lennon and McCartney, and Leiber and Stoller. There were more, but I believe those three had the greatest influence on popular music.

Jerry Leiber died August 20, 2011.

It wouldn't be possible for me to show a YouTube video of every Leiber and Stoller hit song that I like. I found some versions of the songs that I think are interesting, to demonstrate how talented and versatile they were.

My standard disclaimer: sometimes YouTube breaks the links on a video because of copyright issues. If you're looking at this blog and one or more links are black that's the reason.

Jerry Leiber wrote “Spanish Harlem” with Phil Spector.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sons of Tony Sopranarchy

Stories about criminals are always popular. Movies like The Godfather, Parts 1 and 2, both of which are considered two of the best American movies ever made, are still popular after forty years.

Television broke ground when HBO ran The Sopranos, another Mafia saga, set in current times. Tony Soprano and his gang were a bunch of ruthless criminals and killers and the audience loved them. There's an anarchic part of us which likes to see the bad guys win. The Godfather, Don Corleone, gave birth to Tony Soprano, who gave birth to a genre of cable television shows. They aren't subject to network standards and practices, so they can push the edge.

Trading on that, cable networks AMC has a top hit, Breaking Bad, and FX has the biker series, Sons of Anarchy.

Breaking Bad is still one of the best series on television, if only for the terrific performances of its two main leads, Bryan Cranston as former high school chemistry teacher, Walt White, and his partner-in-crime, Jesse Pinkston, played by Aaron Paul. At the beginning of Season One we feel sorry for Walt, who is diagnosed with lung cancer. He's terminal, but uses his skills as a chemist to make a superior brand of methamphetamine to insure his family's financial security. He enlists the aid of a former student, the druggie Jesse, to help him sell his product. From there Walt and Jesse's lives have spiraled out of control. Their roles are changing. Walt's cancer is in remission, but he is showing an antisocial side to his personality, more ruthless. Jesse has shown he has a conscience. Both men have killed, but while Walt doesn't seem bothered by murder, Jesse does.

I can't think of worse people than murderous drug dealers, and yet I'm in front of my television every week rooting for them to get away with it.

I don't know any drug dealers in real life, but during the 1970s I worked with quite a few bikers. Sons of Anarchy shows their culture as accurately as I remember. Bikers are cliquish, can work with people outside of their society, but the club is the most important thing. In that way it's no different than street gangs who band together and become wolf packs of violence and criminality.

Ron Perlman (Hellboy, and Vincent from Beauty and the Beast) is Clay Morrow, president and co-founder of the club. The club is referred to as SAMCRO, an acronym for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Originals.

Clay's wife, Gemma, is played by Katey Sagal, who starred as Peggy Bundy for years in the comedy series, Married With Children. Charlie Hunnam, an actor I was not familiar with before the series, is the lead character, Jax, who is Gemma's son, and Clay's stepson.

SAMCRO is a gun-running group who operate out of a small Northern California town, the fictional Charming (great name, there). They are in league with the chief of police to keep other elements out of the town. It doesn't make them noble, just protective of their turf. Naturally their activities have raised the interest of law enforcement, specifically the ATF (Alchohol, Tobacco and Firearms), a law enforcement arm of the United States government, and an agent, June Stahl, played by Ally Walker.

Since this is television, there are fantasy elements that come into the stories...like law enforcement being so dumb they can't seem to pin the most obvious crimes on the characters. I watched the first two seasons of Sons of Anarchy on Netflix streaming video, and shook my head with disbelief that this gang could get away with so much in plain sight. The capper to me came when one of the bikers threatened Agent Stahl with a gun and he wasn't arrested. The United States government is a lot more powerful than any biker gang in a hick town. We're left with a sense of disbelief at what they get away with.

At least Breaking Bad gives us some semblance of realism. In that series Dean Norris plays Walt White's brother-in-law, Hank, who is an agent of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), sniffing around Walt's boss, the enigmatic Gustavo Fring. Gus is played to dead-panned perfection by Giancarlo Esposito. Gus owns a restaurant chain, Los Pollos Hermanos, the cover for his major drug operation.

(I last wrote a post about this series in June, 2010.)

Just as Sons of Anarchy goes out of its way to make me doubt its credibility, so occasionally does Breaking Bad. I'm giving the latter series a little slack because the whole fourth season hasn't played out yet, but I'm wondering how it is that two trucks, with the name Los Pollos Hermanos painted on the sides, can be shot up by a rival drug cartel, drivers and drug couriers killed, and not have the interest of the FBI and DEA as to why. Maybe that subject will come up again later.

It's a weakness of shows using criminals as heroes that the plots have to go to great lengths to keep the characters from ending up behind bars. In real life there have been major criminals who have operated with impunity, but it's usually because of corrupt officials. Sooner or later illegal activities come out in the open. Maybe it's just because I'm a natural born paranoid, but if I were one of the characters in these dramas I'd be doing a lot of looking over my shoulder. I'd be wondering when a van full of SWAT team members, DEA, FBI, or ATF, were about to swoop down on me. Because we care about the characters in these TV series we forget that real-life criminals are sociopaths with targets on their backs. At some point the law will break down their doors. Federal prisons are grim places, where crooks do hard time, and lots of it. That's something that isn't shown in any of these programs, but it's something the fans should think about. I like Jesse, Walt, and those bad boy bikers of SAMCRO, but they're all gonna be cooling their heels for about 50 years in a federal facility, courtesy of Uncle Sam.


I was there for the first episode of The Sopranos on HBO, and I was hooked as soon as I heard this theme song. The two series I wrote about above have good theme music, but for sheer brilliance it's hard to top this classic opener:


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sin, you swingers! Or, the swap meat

Forty years ago my friend, appropriately named Dick, used to buy a quarterly swinger directory, filled with ads for couples looking to have sex with other couples.

Both Dick and I were married guys. The idea of having sex with strange women titillated Dick. He was always excited when he'd find a listing for a swinger in our hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. I made fun of his fascination, and he never told me whether he contacted anyone from the directory.

For being capitol city of one of the most conservative states in America, Salt Lake can surprise. As I've found out in recent years, there are local swingers communities within Utah's religious, conservative culture, something that doesn't fit into the popular notion of what people in Utah are capable of. There's a stereotype of Utah residents both outside and inside Utah. Even we longtime residents often judge fellow Utahns as a righteous and right-wing group of citizens. It's a perception that is more myth than reality, but perhaps that image helps to create a swinger subculture. If you're a swinger, you're putting one over on the religious types surrounding you.

An article in the December 24, 2008 issue of the Salt Lake City Weekly by Stephen Dark had the story of some local swingers who, in a perversely humorous way, perform swinging as a religion:

Welcome to a nighttime service at Eden church. If the trampoline is an altar, then the oral sex taking place on it is about as close to an act of devotion as this particular religious institution favors. Eden is a church unique in Utah—if not in the United States. It is a hedonistic order dedicated to those who like to trade their spouses for sex—better known as swinging. Adult couples gather in this 2,800-square-foot building to swap conversation, partners and bodily fluids, all under the grandmotherly eye of their pastor, Cindy, and her husband Vaughn, who requested their last name be withheld.

Cindy and Vaughn, 50 and 53 respectively, have been married for 33 years. Despite the reputation for promiscuity swingers have, Vaughn says, there are fewer notches on their bedpost than you might expect. “We’ve had sex with 30 or so couples” over the past two and a half decades, he says. Cindy is a stalwart of the local sex industry. She owned a lingerie boutique in South Salt Lake from 1989 to 1999. She grew so frustrated over battles with law enforcement over displaying sex toys, she decided in 1990 to up the ante: She started a magazine for swingers wanting to advertise for other couples called
Talk and Play, which closed in 2000.

Like most hobbyists, people who swing need a place to gather. But the last thing Cindy wants, she says, is other couples leaving “their DNA” all over her home furniture. She decided to open a place where swingers could get to know one another without worrying about the prejudices of “vanilla people.” (That’s what swingers call those who don’t share their sexual predilections.) A place where—with apologies to the 1980s sitcom Cheers—everyone knows far more than just your name. Such a venue would have required Cindy to secure a sexually orientated business license. That would have exposed her and fellow swingers to possible scrutiny by the state. She was ordained a high priestess by the online Universal Life Church in April 2001. So sanctioned by Universal Life, Cindy opened a sanctuary for her fellow swingers in the shape of Eden’s hedonistic religious order. Universal Life’s only requirement, Cindy says, “is we do the right thing.”

Salt Lake's television station KSL, on an edition of its Eyewitness News, showed a story in 2006 by reporter Debbie Dujanovic about local swingers and attitudes of what is called "the lifestyle":

Vicky Burgess/Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist: "I think, because sexual relations and sex itself is more open, I think we're seeing more of it."

We found there are several parties where couples can meet. Randy Chatelain, Ph.D./ Marriage and Family Therapist: "I believe this kind of behavior is going to catch up with a couple, because where does it stop? What more do you have to involve to create the high?"

Hundreds of [swinging] couples pack a popular Sandy [Salt Lake suburb] nightclub.

"A lot of people nowadays have fantasies and they want to fulfill them with their significant other. This is the best way to do that." This man, who asked not to be identified, built a business, helping couples meet at parties. His website suggests spouses can be in love and still enjoy sex with others. "They figure, 'I would much rather do it with the person I love than have them do it behind my back.'"

From the looks of it, he's pretty successful. He has 4,000 members living in Utah. How fast is it growing? Four years ago there were 150 members. How common is it? Posing as a married woman, we signed up on a website aimed at so-called "swingers." In six days, 70 married men, most from Utah, ask to start a fling.

In 2005 I was shocked to find out a female coworker and her husband were swingers. She was very careful about who she approached, but she would approach a man, asking if he and his wife would like to join her and her husband. Her husband, whom I never met, was a puppeteer, pulling her strings. The man his wife was luring was less important than that man's wife was to the puppeteer. The puppeteer's wife was the bait, the other man's wife was the real catch. In all the years I'd known her my impression was that she and her husband were pillars of their church, who attended Sunday services regularly and lived a religious lifestyle.

Years ago I heard about another male coworker, who with his wife, would meet other couples at a local pancake restaurant, where they'd throw their car keys on the table. The keys they picked up belonged to the couple they'd be swinging with that night. I tried to imagine myself in that situation and couldn't. I tried to imagine that guy, who was fat and ugly, being a swinger, and I couldn't picture that either.

Considering for how many years I'd been fooled by my coworker, the swinger wife who with her husband posed as a church-going religious couple on Sunday after a Saturday night spent boffing other couples, or the fat, ugly guy swinging every weekend, maybe a lot of other people I know in Utah would surprise me, also.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"We" are not pregnant

From today's newspaper comes this: Levi Johnston writes in his book that Bristol Palin was so angry about her mother's pregnancy with son Trig that she wanted to get pregnant, too. He says she told him in 2008, "let's get pregnant." Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs, comes out Sept. 20."

Of all the affectations of modern speech, for me the worst is "we are pregnant."

No, I'm not against pregnancy, and was happy when I heard it from the lips of my own dear wife 35 years ago. But there was no "we" in that pregnancy. We went through a lot together during that pregnancy, and it ended with a C-section to save the lives of her and our son. I stood hopelessly back at the time, because she was the one who was pregnant, not me.

Yes, I understand that "we are pregnant" means it is a shared experience between partners, that both go through many of the same things during that time. But I still hate it as a figure of speech. As for being pregnant, there is no "we," just thee, not me.

Was Bruce Willis pregnant when his wife was? I think not.


Monday, September 12, 2011

"...like something from another universe."

Tea party members don't need to do any original thinking. They just repeat what they hear on right-wing talk radio, joining the like-minded in mindless parroting.

A friend sent me an anti-Obama e-mail he got from an acquaintance of his. I edited by cutting off the last two paragraphs, but left the rest as I received it, spelling, grammar and all.





Obama’s enemies are blaming him for problems that were entrenched before he ever took the oath of office, like a major crash of the U.S. economy and unemployment. We don’t live in Harry Potter’s world, so no one can wave a magic wand and cure those problems. Tea party hatred for Obama clouds their thinking, dulls their minds, and keeps them from working toward real solutions. Their only goal is to get Obama out in 2012.

You don't have to know what's going on to get along. As a matter of fact, ignorance and misstatements of fact are endearing to the Bachmann and Palin fans. It means they're "real folks," as dense as the people who love them.

A problem of perception of Obama by these brain-fogged folks is that he comes across as cerebral, an intellectual. I see him as thinking through a problem. The intellectual tag sticks to Obama, and that sticks in the throats of people like Pierre. They like a man like G.W. Bush, who sounds like a Wild West sheriff: less thought, more direct action. Bush’s place is being taken by his successor as Texas governor, Rick Perry, another shoot-from-the-hip politician. Yeee-haw!

Twenty-first Century men with Nineteenth Century ideas.

It must really gall racists to have this “uppity black man” in the White House, making sense while their tea party and Republican representatives are acting out like spoiled children.

No wonder Obama has called these politics a circus.

The latest poll figures I heard were that Obama had an approval rating of 46%, which is bad, but the United States Congress has an approval rating of 12%. Twelve percent!! Yet they persist in their negative, disruptive, hardball tactics which serve no purpose except to make themselves look bad. They’d rather do that than admit they are wrong. It is a very nasty era of American politics, as down and ugly as we’ve seen it in the past 40 years or more, with ugliness and prejudice fueled by the money of right-wing billionaires like the Koch brothers and others.

From Put A Lid On It by Donald Westlake.

[A political character has been undercover as a chauffeur for a millionaire right-winger, and makes a comment]:

"I just found the fellow fascinating."

Bob stopped his inspection to glare at Jeffords. "You did what!?"

"To watch a mind like that at work," Jeffords said, and shook his head in admiration. "He processes the same information from the world that you and I do, and turns it into something from another universe. It's like listening to someone from the Flat Earth Society, or those people who believe the moon landings were faked on soundstages in Hollywood."

. . . "I admire the effect," Jeffords said. If I could tap into the subtext of fears and prejudices and prides and misunderstood history the way he can, only with a little more self-awareness, bring it out a little smoother, a little blander . . . I'd be running for president myself."


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Muggs with mugshots

An article in my local morning newspaper described a dilemma some people find themselves in after being arrested by the police. Their arrest mugshots are shown on various commercial websites. In order to get their picture removed from the website they have to contact another website where, for $399, they can get their mugshot taken off the site. It would obviously behoove anyone in such a situation not to want a prospective employer to google his name, and find him pop up on a mugshot website. So some pay the price. The article goes on to say that some arrestees feel this is a form of extortion. Since the mugshots are part of the public record there is nothing that police agencies can do about the practice except advise, "Don't get arrested."

I agree. But on the other hand I can look at their pictures and think, "Thank god that isn't me!" It has been one of the main goals of my life to never come within whistling distance of a jail, much less a booking picture.

The charges against these individuals are pretty common and boring. They include domestic violence, drugs, DUI. I can make up better charges in my head, just by looking at the those arrested.

For instance, I'd list the charge against these two as BEING STUPEFIED.

For these youngsters I'd throw in a charge of MISTAKENLY THINKING THIS IS A YEARBOOK PICTURE.

There could be a couple of crimes these guys could be charged with, so take your choice: BEING OLD HIPPIES, or LOOKING LIKE DRUG-ADDLED '80S HEAVY METAL SURVIVORS.

Along those lines, these next individuals will definitely go to jail for HAVING A REALLY BAD HAIR DAY.




And finally, this man has been charged with IMPERSONATING A CARTOON CHARACTER.


Sunday, September 04, 2011

Clean dirty music

If you're like me you've gotten blasé about sexually explicit music. There has always been music about sex, but it was more innuendo, without using obscene language to describe the sex act. "Race records" were aimed at black people, and a lot of the music was thinly, yet cleverly, disguised. How else to listen to songs called "I Want To Bang Your Box" (box being a piano, heh-heh) by the Toppers, or "Big Ten Inch" (a 10" 33 1/3 rpm record, wink-wink) by Bullmoose Jackson? It's clear what they're really about, but like the other songs in this list, they use clean language to make a dirty song.

Or at least it was dirty way back when. Frank Zappa said, "Parents saw a danger in that lewd black music," to describe the alarm of the mid-1950s about rock music. African-Americans had evolved a coded language for sex in music. We've come a long way in 60 years, but I'm not sure it's for the better. These songs still titillate, and I still laugh at Hank Ballard and the Midnighters' "Work With Me Annie." The Etta James answer song, "Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry"), was cleaned up for white audiences of the 1950s by substituting one word, "dance" for "roll" to change its blatant sexuality into a benign, catchy tune that was a big crossover hit.

That happened more than once in that era. Squeaky-clean Pat Boone covering Little Richard is a good example. Luckily history has chosen the best version of the song for us, as it has chosen Etta James' raunchier version of "Roll With Me Henry" as preferable to its mainstream counterpart.

My Disclaimer: YouTube has been known to remove videos and break the links. If you encounter a black screen it's their fault and not mine.