Friday, August 31, 2012

Snapshots: Illinois farm family, 1930s

 4H Club in Urbana, Ill

I bought an old photo album the other day, made up of snapshots covering years from 1923 to 1940. They were taken by an unnamed young woman of her family and neighbors in an Illinois farming community.

I decided to scan and show some of the pictures because I have at least a couple of names, and the way the internet works someday someone may google one or more of those names and find photos of their relatives on this site. If they do they're free to print them.

Remember to click on the pictures to make them big.

 1923 Anton Koch

1938 Amelia Koch in Port Byron, Ill

 Anton Koch and Lottie Judice 1938

I enlarged the photos, which improves them. Some of the photos, stuck in a photo album (I've got a sample page here) have the negatives right behind the pictures.

One even had the note, “Norma wants this one.” I've attached the note. Looks like Norma didn't get it, but I did. If Norma is still around she can at least download the picture.

 Norma wants this one. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Bownlow (? — it's a bit hard to decipher that name.)

Calfs and Norma

Despite many of the dates on the pictures being during the Depression years of the 1930s it doesn't look like this Illinois farm family is hurting. There are two pictures of a new barn, one picture of it under construction, and the other when it’s finished.

The new barn 1936

 1936 new barn

America went from being rural and agricultural to urban and suburban after World War II. There are still family farms in this country, but I don't know if the Illinois farm, of which we get some glimpses in these pictures, is still in existence.

 Rock River  Dad and I in car going over

Children posing in field

Queen one week old

Girl with donkey (Queen?)

Dorothy, a small woman with a big car.

Alta and Cyril on their wedding day

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rock ‘n’ roll: The sound of sex!

This article, from a 1956 issue of Rage for Men magazine, is an indictment of rock music. It quotes a Minneapolis newspaper describing a rock concert: “a thousand 13-year-olds had appeared at a ‘midnight orgy of sin and lewd music’ at a nearby fairgrounds, leaving behind them a trail of orange peels, paper cups and broken window panes.”

(Oh, the horror! Orange peels and paper cups! Those lewd, sinning little bastards!)

“The way those kids are going they’ll all have high blood pressure at 20,” says Mary E. Driscoll, all-powerful chairman of Boston’s licensing board.

The article claims, “Simplified, rock and roll is a ‘repetitive, rhythmic music, dependent on mass hypnosis for its effect.’”

“It’s not,” says noted anthropologist Antriem Warren, “much different from the drum rituals of Haiti.”

In 1956 rock ‘n’ roll was brand new and strange to adult ears used to Sinatra, Crosby, Rosemary Clooney or the other pop singers of the day. The criticisms zeroed in on Elvis, who had become the poster boy for rock, and a real bad boy of his day. Elvis (or whomever wrote the article under his byline), answered the critics in a follow-up article for the next issue of Rage. He sounds mostly unaffected, just a kid who loves to sing, and has a following. It’s a real aw-shucks article which calls in his working class origins and his parents.

At the time Elvis was a true rockstar, and living a rockstar life with girls and money available to him for the first time. He probably created a template for every rock star who came after him. Of course, that’s not mentioned in either article.

Monday, August 27, 2012

First day of school

Today is the first day of school for public schools in our town.

I worked for the school district for 32 ½ years. I also attended school in that district, so subtracting a couple of years when I attended elementary school in another state, and not counting the years I went to art school and college it’s about…errrr….let me get out my calculator…forty years. Add in those other starts and it’s more like forty-six first days.

Whew. That’s a lot of first days of school. Of course the advantage of the 32 ½ years I worked for the school district I didn’t have to attend classes. But oddly enough that feeling of the first day never truly went away; just thinking about the butterflies in my stomach from my student days gave me butterflies during my working days.

When I saw the kids on their first days in school I had empathy for them. I don’t think as a student I was ever happy on the first day of school. Excited yes, happy no. But some first days were filled with more dread than others. It depended on what I had built up in my head as summer came to a close. Remembering those days brings on memories that provide strong internal reactions.

We can recover from accidents and illnesses, but we never recover from our childhoods, do we?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A man is never completely dressed without a necktie

From Mad's Maddest Artist Don Martin Drops 13 Stories!

Copyright © 1965 Don Martin and E.C. Publications

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rock Center rocks Mormons

The August 23, 2012 edition of NBC’s Rock Center program was an hour devoted to the Mormon Church. The first Mormon ever to be nominated as a candidate for president is about to become the official party flag-bearer next week. NBC figured the public wanted to know about the most successful “American religion.”

My wife and I dropped out of the LDS Church when we were teenagers. Even though we are now outside the culture we still live around Mormons. We possess enough knowledge to see into the culture. I found the NBC program to be non-critical, just laying some basic groundwork on the origins of the church (the Joseph Smith “golden plates”-to-Book of Mormon story), and then interviewing some Latter-day Saints about their lives.

That’s where it got tricky, because these LDS people interviewed weren’t typical. Reporters talked to a mixed-race couple — white wife, black husband; they interviewed two gay men, one of whom has dropped out of the church, one of whom is still active; they talked to a devout LDS wife and mom who is critical of the church’s view of women’s roles; they talked to a former governor’s daughter whose marriage to a non-Mormon caused her to drop out of the church. They showed rich Mormons, like the man who founded Jet Blue Airlines. They didn’t talk to any of my LDS neighbors, who are what we locally think of as Mormons: married, working class straights with several kids.

 Former Utah governor (and presidential candidate) Jon Huntsman’s daughter, Abby, and husband Jeff Livingston. She says the opposition to her marrying a non-Mormon is her reason for dropping out of the church.

The program mentioned, but glossed over, what demands the church puts on the time of its faithful. Years ago I read an article on why the LDS Church is successful with a lay clergy. They test devotion by the amount of work a member is willing to do gratis. And that time spent in church jobs can impact the very family life they so jealously protect by fighting off perceived threats like gay marriage.

The program showed parts of the church’s welfare system, which is high tech, and works very well. The LDS Church does relief efforts in other countries hit by disasters, and likewise in our country during natural disasters. It also provides emergency welfare for its members.

But the program didn’t address Mormon politics. In Utah, as close to a theocratic state as we have in America, the politics are Republican, and not just Republican, but right-wing, and not just right-wing, but far right-wing. It’s not hard to understand why. The welfare system I mentioned in the last paragraph came about during the Great Depression of the 1930s because church leaders did not like Franklin D. Roosevelt, or any of the New Deal programs.

In the fifties Ezra Taft Benson, later president of the LDS Church, was appointed to be Secretary of Agriculture by President Eisenhower. After Benson left office he was brought into the church’s hierarchy, and ascended eventually to become Church President and prophet. He was president from 1985 until his death in 1994. Politically Benson was a right-wing extremist.
Benson was an outspoken opponent of communism and socialism, and supporter, but not a member, of the John Birch Society, which he praised as "the most effective non-church organization in our fight against creeping socialism and Godless Communism." He published a 1966 pamphlet entitled Civil Rights, Tool of Communist Deception. In a similar vein, during a 1972 general conference of the LDS Church, Benson recommended that all Mormons read Gary Allen's New World Order tract “None Dare Call it A Conspiracy” [sic].

-    Wikipedia

One of Benson’s most infamous quotes is a precursor to the current rabidly anti-Democrat politics of the Mormon faithful:
In February 1974 Apostle Ezra Taft Benson [he wasn’t president yet, but words of apostles carry a lot of weight with Mormons]  was asked during an interview if a good Mormon could also be a liberal Democrat. Benson pessimistically replied: ‘I think it would be very hard if he was living the gospel and understood it.’

-    John Heinerman and Anson Shule, The Mormon Corporate Empire, p. 142
His words didn’t stop Scott M. Matheson, the Democratic candidate for governor in 1976, from winning. Matheson took over from Calvin Rampton, a Democrat who had been governor since 1964. But the seeds of that quote from Benson were planted, and years later I overheard a conversation between two of my bosses as to whom their vote would go. “Not a Democrat,” said one, and then quoted Benson.

Since 1984 there has not been a Democratic governor in Utah. We have one Democratic congressman, Scott Matheson’s son, Jim, and most of the time he votes with Republicans.

The good news in all of this is that despite Utah Republicans love for Mitt Romney (“He's one of us!”) Utah is a state with few electoral votes. We don’t have the population to swing an election.

NBC News did as good a job as I could have expected with their report, but it was  of necessity cursory, and participants were chosen for their non-typical, even colorful, Mormon status. No one I saw on that program was a typical Mormon, like I have known, worked and lived alongside for over fifty years.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What conservatives say they want, but what they really want

What I wrote the other day about Richie Rich Romney’s running mate going along with Romney on a tax release has more-or-less come to pass. Paul Ryan, the conservative centerfold model, will release two years worth. It seems a compromise. Romney won’t release his, and Ryan, stuck in the middle, had to do something, so he thought two years sounded good. Uh huh. We’ll see how this ultimately plays out, because President Obama is hammering Richie Rich over his taxes and it will not go away after the Republican convention.

Ryan as a choice was something of a surprise —  or was it? We’ve known all along that Richie was kowtowing to the noisy tea party right-wing of his party. By choosing Ryan it means that Richie has bypassed the mainstream and gone straight for the far right side of the stream. Like his non-disclosure on taxes, Ryan as running mate may come back to hurt him with independents who are looking forward to Medicare, and to us Baby Boomers who are already enrolled.

No wonder his budget numbers are strange. He's looking at them sideways.

Talk about changes in Medicare or Social Security makes me nervous, and should make all Americans sit up and take notice. Because no matter what any politician says, or what Americans claim they want, they like the status quo. That’s borne out in the 2011 book, Among the Truthers, by Canadian journalist and editor Jonathan Kay, who took a couple of years to study American conspiracists of all types, including the 9/11 paranoids and the Obama “birthers.” From his position as an outsider who has done his homework, Kay has some interesting things to say about what American conservatives say and what they really want.

From the book:
Once elected every modern politician, no matter how ostensibly conservative, eventually will have to hang up his tricorner hat, sit down at his desk, and confront the same modern-world realities that greeted his predecessor. Ronald Reagan is the greatest hero in the history of American conservatism. But even he couldn’t find a way to eliminate a single major spending program during his presidency. George W. Bush, denounced as a heartless ‘neocon’ during his two terms in office, actually added a major spending program — the Medicare drug benefit.

Such hypocrisy is old news among American political pollsters. As far back as 1964, two scholars — Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril — used Gallup Poll data to cross-index American attitudes toward government programs and respondents’ professed ideological beliefs. What they found was that overlapping majorities of Americans expressed support both for small government in principle, and big government programs in practice — a paradox Cantril identified in an influential book, Political Beliefs of Americans, as nothing less than ‘mildly schizoid.’ The same phenomenon manifests itself today among conservatives who make radical claims about the need to scale back the size of government, but also express satisfaction with classic welfare-state programs such as Medicare and Social Security. In late 2010, a poll conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University revealed that a majority of Americans who say they want more-limited government also believe that Medicare and Social Security are ‘very important.’ Likewise, more than half of self-declared Tea Party supporters said the government should maintain or increase its involvement in poverty eradication.

. . . The ‘mildly schizoid’ quality of American political life means that this culture war is fought not only between two camps of political partisans, but often within Americans’ own dissonance-wracked minds.

. . .The war is not only shrill but endless: Since most American conservatives would never actually accept the smaller government they claim as their goal, their war demands will never be met — even when their legislative armies conquer Washington.

This aspect of the American intellectual landscape has pathologized political debate — turning every discussion about legitimate policy into a screaming match . . . it is also an aspect that most Americans seem to take for granted, not realizing how strange it all seems.
A few weeks ago it was revealed that Libertarian/Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was accepting Social Security money for himself. Even though he claimed the program (in place since the mid-1930s, for godsake) was “probably unconstitutional” he decided it was better to take the money.

Legislators in our government, Ron Paul included, get a fair salary, fantastic healthcare benefits, get to vote themselves raises, go on junkets at taxpayer expense, and are wined and dined by lobbyists with vested interests. Why any of them with objections to a so-called “nanny state” would accept Social Security, or Medicare for that matter, is beyond me. If they are so opposed to these social welfare programs, so caught up in the principle of the thing, then they should not accept the money. By rights they should just go on making money off the taxpayers by doing what they are elected to do, and not by squeezing federal dollars intended as a social safety net for the rest of the American citizens. You know, what Social Security was designed for!

In the event that Richie Rich Romney and Paul “Rollback Medicare” Ryan win the election, Ryan will be holding a more-or-less symbolic position in the government. I doubt he will be a shadow president like Dick “Darth Vader” Cheney, and I don’t believe that once out of his congressional chair he will have more influence than he did as a lawmaker. So in one way it would almost be better to elect him as vice president, or even better, make sure he doesn’t get re-elected to Congress or elected as vice president, and shelve his ideas about screwing up plans that people have rightfully expected after having worked a lifetime.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Killjar

I'm calling last summer, 2011, the Summer of the Wasp. We had an infestation in our neighborhood. Somewhere there was a huge wasps’ nest, sending out thousands of the dangerous little critters. If anyone knew where it was they didn't do anything about it. I know it wasn't on my property, because I looked. The wasps especially liked the cat food I set out for the three stray cats we have committed ourselves to taking care of. Poor Mamacat didn't fare well with the wasps. They stung her on the eyeball and she lost sight in her left eye.

Sally and I set out pest strips, old-fashioned flypaper, which worked to a point, and caught a lot of wasps and other flying insects. This year she put out some brightly colored, specially designed glass jars as traps. She pours in a couple of inches of sugar water. The ingenious construction lures the wasps in, but they can't get back out. Then they drown. I'd feel sorry for them, but it’s hard to feel sorry for pests whose stingers contain venom. Sally was stung by a wasp this summer, but not at home. It was on the walking trail we use for our exercise walks. The wasps have built nests all over town, it seems.

We have three of the killjars hung up outside the back door, right over where we feed the cats. As you can see from the picture, they work. Maybe next summer we won't need them. We can always hope.


The jars did their killing while we were in Los Angeles for five days. We took our two grandchildren, who stayed with us for six weeks, to our son, their dad. His wife joined him the day we left, and they took the kids to Disneyland. They have a true bi-coastal relationship. He lives in California, she in Pennsylvania. He found a job opportunity, but it was 2000 miles from his family.

For us it was kind of a working vacation. We took care of the kids, mostly letting them play in the nearby Arcadia Park, while their dad worked. I didn't rent a car, and depended on him to take us where we wanted to go, including the beach on Sunday. Maybe next time we‘ll do some more sightseeing. I’m intimidated by Southern California, the traffic especially. You people who live there, bless you, but you won’t have to worry about me joining any in-migration to your state.

We didn't get to any of the Southern California distractions attractions, but at least I picked up a few brochures at the motel.

I’m struck by the Madame Tussauds brochure and the headline “Save up to $30!” Thirty dollars! How much does it cost to go through Madame Tussauds? That’s a rhetorical question. I’m not interested. Thirty dollars...sheesh.

Amoeba Records is fabulous. I haven't been to their L.A. store, but used to go to the one in Berkeley. You young people owe it to yourselves to see it, if only to see 12” vinyl LPs like your parents listened to.

I didn't find one brochure I looked for, the Museum of Death. My niece, who is a bit on the morbid side, loved that museum, and I admire the t-shirt she bought there as a souvenir.

A sampling from other brochures:

Maybe I should design a t-shirt:

For the final word on Los Angeles we turn it over to the master of cynical observation, Randy Newman:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Garters and stockings and heels...oh my!

I saw pictures of women with whips, wearing garters, nylons and high heels for the first time fifty years ago when I was going through puberty. I was very interested, but also flabbergasted. At that age the pictures didn't look like any kind of sex I could relate to. I liked them anyway, even if the women, had I met them in real life carrying whips, would have scared me to death.

Occasionally I surf the Internet looking for these images. At my currrent age and with half a century behind me, they look more quaint to me than anything else. I don't see the danger that I see in the hardcore BDSM I'm unable to avoid during my Internet travels. The whips don't look like they've ever laid open any flesh, and the women look about as dangerous as the housewives I see in the supermarket. It was all just fantasy, to appeal to those guys who needed a little extra spice in their pin-ups.

 Bettie Page was then, as now, the face (and body) of the underground fetish biz. Page had the fresh look of the girl next door, if you liked the girl next door playing dominatrix, tying up other hot women. Bettie Page was called before a Senate committee investigating pornography, then quit the business and went into personal obscurity, while the photos of her live on and on. She’s deceased now, but her image is now so mainstream there’s a store chain named after her.

The top picture is a modern recreation of Bettie, and the other two a couple of retro-modern cuties.

The sixties gave us beehive hairdos and patterned stockings.

Today some photographers try to capture that old-time look, but it's a different world today, and while the pictures evoke the old photos, they just don't have that background of sleaze and sweat the originals came from. In those days it was a very specialized field. The pictures were sold in specialty shops, like in Times Square, New York. When we saw them in my little town they were strictly underground. I remember them being passed around my junior high gym class (confiscated by the coach, who did who-knows-what with them). They were a forbidden thrill. The vintage pictures appeal to me for a perverse reason:  the underworld connection. That connection is removed by mainstream sexy lingerie stores like Victoria's Secret. In the old days the women in the pictures were strippers and part of the sex business run by organized crime. The fetish photos, unlike the “safe” stuff  of the time in newsstand girly magazines, weren't cheesecake, they were sleazecake.

Looking at these old photos today is a reminder of a time when even a picture of a girl dressed in a bustier with garters and nylons and high heels—who might be carrying a whip—was considered by some to be the rankest form of pornography. Too bad those bluenoses of the forties and fifties couldn't glimpse the Internet of today and see what real pornography is. Then they, like me, would see these garter-stocking-heels pictures as a kind of sexy folk art.

Your great-grandma showed her stocking tops.

Even Sophia got into the spirit of the thing.

The girl on the phone is Kevin (yes, Kevin) Daley, “Miss Army Day 1949” — really. I would not kid about a serious thing like that.

A mask and a gun.

G’bye…and y’all come back now, y’hear?