Saturday, June 30, 2012

Another life transition

I heard with mixed emotions the news of the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of “Obamacare.”

No one really knows what will happen when—and if, unless it's killed by legislation—it becomes fully operational in 2014. The Republicans still use it as a wedge issue in this election year. “Boy! If you hated Obamacare when you thought the Supreme Court was gonna declare it unconstitutional, now it’s gonna be law and you’ll really hate it!”

If left as is I’m sure it will have growing pains. All new programs do, especially programs that promise to radically change the established order. But even Republicans would have to agree it looks like it would give someone an opportunity to make money. Adding over 30 million people to the insurance rolls will certainly help fatten some wallets. Maybe instead of expending their energy to kill it, they should try to figure out how they can cash in. After all, Republicans are really good at that.

Romney's prayer: ”Lord, please help to get me elected so I can kill Obamacare, the enemy of all that is good and holy in thy sight. (Even if it is based on the program I signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, which was righteous and correct.) And if being President isn’t within thy plan and I don’t win, please help me make some real money in the health insurance business!”

Personally, I think the Republicans are in for a fight. If Barack Obama has shown anything it’s that he doesn’t back down. Not any more, not since he found out there is no compromise with the right-wing knuckleheads on the hill.

Is this the look of a man who appears afraid to fight? I think not.

For me it’s probably all moot. Today, June 30, 2012, is my last day on my old insurance plan. I have gotten my health insurance through the school district practically my whole adult life. When my wife went to work for them they gave her the option to put me on her health plan for an extra $7.00 a year. No, I didn’t say $700.00, but seven bucks. Incredible. I went to work for them in 1976. Even though what I paid for my insurance was considerably more than $7.00 when I retired, I’ve never complained about my costs for health insurance. As part of my retirement benefit I was allowed to stay on the plan until I turned 65. That’s in about another week, so as of tomorrow, my last remaining tie to my old employer will be history, and I will be turned over to Medicare.

My doctors all hate it because Medicare doesn’t pay them much, but they’re stuck with me. Based on the experiences of other people I know, I expect a smooth transition into Medicare. The thing that bothers me is having those rascal Republicans trying to slash away at a benefit I believe I have earned after a lifetime of work. I began my working life about a year before Medicare was introduced in the sixties. It got a lot of political heat, and the anguished cry went up that it was going to break the country, but of course it didn’t. It had many growing pains, but after 47 years I believe it has found its course. Let’s hope so, anyway.

(What breaks the country is running a string of expensive wars. I don’t know why paying for useless wars is okay and giving health care to citizens is not, but then I don’t have the brain of a Republican.)

I just have a question that no one has answered for me yet. If the Affordable Health Care Act is commonly known as “Obamacare,” then why isn’t Medicare “Johnsoncare” or Social Security “Rooseveltcare” or even “FDRcare”?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

“There Oughta Be a Law!”

“There Oughta Be a Law” was a newspaper panel strip that ran for many years. It was inspired by — actually, it looks more like an exact replica — of the popular King Features panel, “They’ll Do It Every Time” by Jimmy Hatlo.

“Law” was done by cartoonist Al Fagaly and Harry Shorten. Fagaly and Shorten had worked together in comic books, for the company that publishes Archie comic books. Shorten went on to other enterprises, including publishing (Tower Books, Tower Comics, etc.) Fagaly died in 1963, Shorten in 1991.

I think there oughta be a law against people who say there oughta be a law, because in too many cases they pass stupid laws. Right now there is a law on the books in Utah that says if a person is target shooting outside of city limits and causes damage he can’t be held liable. (It’s part of that old Second Amendment “right to bear arms” thing, promoted by the NRA, that has been extended to include idiots who should be facing the other end of the gun, if you know what I mean.) So far over twenty wildfires have been started by people shooting in the hills. That’s a case where “there oughta be a law” should read, “there ought nota be a law!” The governor recently said he’s thinking of calling a special session of the legislature to rescind the law.

These are original panels being sold by Heritage Auctions for about $40.00 each. In many cases they represent an America no longer in existence, where doctors made house calls, or people used public telephones. There are others, though, that are still right on the mark even after forty, fifty or even sixty years.

I’ve downloaded over sixty of these panels, but I’m only showing twenty today.

Scans Copyright © Heritage Auctions

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sherlock returns, 1952

Sherlock Holmes, it is said, is one of the most recognizable literary figures in the world, right up there with Tarzan and Superman.

In 1952 Life published a new story featuring Holmes, written as a collaboration between Adrian Conan Doyle (Sherlock’s creator Conan Doyle’s youngest son) and John Dickson Carr, a very popular mystery novelist and Doyle biographer.

Life considered it so important they included it in their Christmas issue, uninterrupted by the ubiquitous advertising that intruded on nearly every page of the magazine. An article on the creation of the story doesn’t escape that dubious distinction, though, and the ads are back.

A couple of years ago I found a library copy of The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Doyle and Carr, and this is a picture of its dust jacket. There are twelve stories in the book, including “The Adventure of the Seven Clocks,” published by Life.

The last few years have seen a tinkering with—if not an outright dismantling of—the Holmes tradition established by Arthur Conan Doyle. Many books have been written using the Holmes character, including the classic Seven Per Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer. An updating of the characters to the modern era has been shown on television, and then there is the two-fisted revisionist Holmes movies with Robert Downey Jr. (To be fair, being an action hero as portrayed in the Downey movies is not that much of a stretch, when you read in the Life article that Holmes was once a boxer.)

Personally, I prefer the original Holmes set firmly in the last couple of decades of the 19th century. The new stuff is kind of fun, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as interesting as the classic portrayal by Jeremy Brett, which lasted from 1984 until his death in 1995.

“The Adventure of the Seven Clocks” Copyright © 1952 Adrian Conan Doyle
Life editorial material Copyright © 1952, 2012 Time-Life, Inc.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chewed out by Sgt. Bilko

Seeing this picture of actor/comedian Phil Silvers in an old issue of Time magazine brought back a specific memory.

Fifty years ago Dad took my mother, brother and me to Hollywood. He had a business meeting in nearby Inglewood, and thought it would be fun to stay in Hollywood. When we got to Hollywood Dad was unsure of where he was supposed to go. He was on a main boulevard when he realized he needed to turn left. He started making his left turn without checking oncoming traffic. It caused a driver going in the other direction to slam on his brakes. Dad slammed on his brakes, also. The driver of the car who’d just avoided a collision with Dad pulled up so he was eye to eye with him. The driver yelled and called Dad a “goddamned idiot,” then told him, “watch what the hell you're doing.” The whole exchange took a couple of seconds, then the driver, in a large car which my memory tells me was a new Chrysler Imperial, pulled ahead and drove on. Dad, with left turn signal blinking, waited for traffic to clear so he could go. He turned to my brother and me in the back seat. “You kids see who that was? It was Sergeant Bilko!” Bilko was the chiseling character Phil Silvers played on television, a role which had turned him from an old vaudeville-style comic to a full-fledged star.

“Boy,” continued Dad. “Sergeant Bilko...”

I injected, “Phil Silvers, Dad.”

“Yeah, yeah, Phil Silvers.”

“Just be careful,” my mother said. She always chirped in after the fact with the obvious.

We didn't speak of the incident again but maybe Dad brought it up in his business meeting. “Hey, guys! Guess who chewed me out this morning?”  None of us thought of getting yelled at by Phil Silvers as a bad thing. It was enough to have a brush with celebrity. This is what people went to Hollywood for, yes? To see stars. We saw what we came to see in an unexpected way.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I don't think anyone was really surprised by the verdict for Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty on 45 counts of child sex abuse. Over the years he pretty much had his way with several kids, using and abusing them. The proverbial chickens have come home to the proverbial roost.

My question would be, why did it take so long to find this guy out? Well, it really didn't, because some people knew years ago. They just didn't say anything. They are complicit because of their silence. You cannot let a person who has sex with children off the hook because they'll just go victimize someone else. Maybe your child.

Another question is, why did he fight it when everything was so overwhelmingly against him? He had ten accusers who are now adults, who sat in court and told their sordid stories. Did he think there was a chance a jury would find him not guilty and send him on his way to take up his life again? His defense team did the best they could, but evidence against him was overwhelming. Even his stepson was in the wings waiting to testify against him. He wasn't needed.

On the NBC program Rock Center a reporter asked one of Sandusky's accusers (who testified against him to the Grand Jury but not in his criminal trial) if he thought Sandusky ever thought he would be caught. The young man said no. Which is another thing, why would Sandusky not worry about being caught, and after being caught, have his worst nightmares come true, a jury trial, disgrace for himself and his family, and the chance he'd spend the rest of his life in prison? Did he think that far ahead, or was he really that stupid (or in denial) to think he'd never be caught?

This is all after one of the worst stories of child sex abuse in U.S. history: scandals of the Catholic Church, priests abusing children. The stories made headlines for years. Did Jerry Sandusky sit up at night sweating, thinking "this could happen to me"?

I don't begin to understand adults who want to have sex with children, or what satisfaction it gives them. I believe it's about power over someone weaker and more vulnerable. The stories of abuse usually include threats made by the abuser to his victim: "No one will believe you," or in some extreme cases, "If you don't do it I'll hurt your family." Obviously they're not trying to get love, just sex and control.

Pedophiles follow some patterns, grooming their victims, and Jerry Sandusky did all of those things that child sex abusers do. He made out that he was helping the child, he made the child's family trust him with the child. He took his time getting around to the evil stuff, and when he did, the poor kid was totally in his power.

I don't think there is an organization, no matter how altruistic or benevolent in its desire to guide or help children that hasn't been tainted at one time or another by one of these clever guys. My former boss, who was a scoutmaster his whole adult life, told me it's a problem within scouting. But it is also a big problem with church groups, schools, or anywhere that adults have access to kids. Many people are just naƮve and don't know it's going on, even under their noses. My hope is that now that stories about the Catholic Church and a high profile story like that of Jerry Sandusky have been splashed all over the news that someone who would have otherwise been oblivious will now see the signs.

The problems that existed within the Catholic Church, moving priests who molested children from parish to parish, also exist in school districts, and it's because of liability laws. A few years ago there was a scandal (actually, one of many, but I'll use this as an example) with the school district where I worked. A middle school teacher was caught with a student and not only fired, but turned over for prosecution. I talked to the HR Director who told me why he'd been hired. He said that school districts worry about lawsuits. This teacher had worked for another school district, and was suspected of sexual misbehavior but they couldn't prove it. So they found another reason to let him go. When he applied at our district and HR called them for a reference they couldn't tell us what they suspected. Had they told us what they knew of his behavior and their suspicions our district would never have hired him. If he found out his old employer had told our HR of their suspicions he could have sued them. Years before that, in the late 1970s, the first time I heard of anyone being arrested for child sex abuse was when a teacher was arrested in the school. A 14-year-old boy told authorities the teacher had been having sex with him since the boy was 11. At the time many people were totally in the dark about the problem. One of the school secretaries told me, "I thought Mr. O was just being a nice guy, picking the boy up, bringing him to school and taking him home!" The victim, being raised by a single mom, was a latchkey child, and Mr. O found him an easy mark.

BUT KIDS GROW UP. And then they tell their stories. There might have been a time when adults did not believe a child telling such tales of an adult, but not anymore. Nowadays a teacher who abuses an 11-year-old will know that someday that kid will grow up and tell someone what the abuser did. So why do it? Why take the chance? I guess it's like Sandusky's victim said, he didn't think Sandusky believed he would ever be caught. Maybe it's that way with other child abusers, too. Or perhaps they convince themselves the child likes it, even that they're doing the kid some kind of favor by giving them attention they may not be getting from other adults.

There will always be Jerry Sanduskys in this world. What people need to do is learn what to look for if someone shows an interest, any kind of interest in your child that you think is above and beyond their duty to the child. What I found in my time working around children is that it is rare to have someone with ulterior motives. But like other destructive vermin, they can do a lot of damage before they are stopped.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The haters

Some people have a deep-seated suspicion, fear and hatred of the U.S. Government—they say it's big federal government they hate—and they listen to those who have the same hatred, suspicion and fear. The hatred is often in the abstract—even the haters use government benefits just like everyone else. (Read how presidential candidate Ron Paul, who believes Social Security is unconstitutional collects Social Security.) The haters can be billionaires or working class folks. Sometimes they are radio personalities like Glenn Beck.

Glenn Beck forgets the old saying, "When you point your finger three more are pointing back at you."

This election cycle the haters have more than a hatred of government in the abstract. Along with that hatred of big government they hate Barack Obama, something shared by most, if not all, of Glenn Beck's regular listeners. Beck has said things like:

''Barack Obama ... chose to use his name Barack for a reason -- to identify, not with America -- you don't take the name Barack to identify with America. You take the name Barack to identify with what? Your heritage? The heritage, maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical? Is -- really? Searching for something to give him any kind of meaning, just as he was searching later in life for religion.''
—Glenn Beck, ''The Glenn Beck Program,'' Feb. 4, 2010

(Glenn Beck was also looking for religion when he converted to Mormonism.)

''So here you have Barack Obama going in and spending the money on embryonic stem cell research. ... Eugenics. In case you don't know what Eugenics led us to: the Final Solution. A master race! A perfect person. ... The stuff that we are facing is absolutely frightening.''
—Glenn Beck on his radio show, March 9, 2009

(A cure for Parkinson's or spinal injury makes a master race? Glenn, you've been reading science fiction.)

''This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture....I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.''
—Glenn Beck, on President Obama, sparking an advertiser exodus from his FOX News show, July 28, 2009

(And of course, none of the people like Beck who hate Barack Obama are racists, are they? "This president . . . has a deep-seated hatred for white people . . . I'm not saying he doesn't like white people . . ." Beck, one thing about your inconsistency is it's so consistent.)

Beck is a radio guy and while he's spewing bile or promoting paranoia he's also selling advertising. He's so successful that he just got a raise from $10 million to $20 million a year. I'd think that would put him out of the league of the poorer people who listen to him, but obviously they don't think like that. They align themselves with Beck and therefore place themselves in a position of being against their own self-interest. Do you think Glenn Beck is for making millionaires and billionaires pay more of a fair share of taxes? Do you think he cares if you take on the entire cost of government, the government he rails against?

Beck has his, and those who listen to him and support his advertisers have put that money right in his wallet.

Glenn Beck invokes God and religion but he's not a preacher in the conventional, ordained sense. Those preachers who are preaching hatred for Obama are also supposed to be Evangelical Christians, "love thy neighbor, do unto others, let he who is without sin cast the first stone" kinds of Christians. The New Yorker had an article on Bryan Fischer* in its June 18, 2012 issue. Author Jane Mayer gives us some background on Fischer, who had congregations in Idaho,a state which is no stranger to right wing hate groups, including American Nazis. Fischer is now director of issue analysis for the American Family Association of Tupelo, Mississippi (a state not that far removed from its image as Ku Klux Klan territory), a "pro-family ministry . . ." which "promotes Bible-based social conservatism and criticizes what is regards as sinful popular culture." Fischer is host of a radio program called "Focal Point," which like Beck's program, plays to an audience of so-called Christians, paranoid malcontents and racists.

From Mayer's article:
The A.F.A. is a tax-exempt charitable organization, and it is supposed to remain strictly nonpartisan. Yet Fischer has spread doubts about the authenticity of Obama’s American birth certificate and Christian faith, and has claimed that the President’s aim is to “destroy capitalism.” Obama, he has said, “despises the Constitution” and “nurtures a hatred for the white man.” Fischer recently accused the Administration’s Department of Homeland Security of buying so much ammunition that it was causing a shortage. His source on this, he said, was a law-enforcement officer. “Who are they going to turn that ammunition on?” he asked his listeners. “They’re going to turn it on us!”

Fischer thinks that Islam is a violent religion, and argues that Muslims should be stopped from immigrating and barred from serving in the U.S. military. He believes that the country was a Christian nation when the Bill of Rights was written, and therefore non-Christians “have no First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.” He has said that Native Americans are “morally disqualified” from ruling America, and that African-American welfare recipients “rut like rabbits.”

Many evangelical leaders, meanwhile, have begun casting fiscal conservatism as a religious imperative. Ralph Reed says, “On a multitude of fronts, the economic wing of conservatism and the social-policy wing is now a false dichotomy.” David Barton, the author of best-selling Christianity-infused books on American history—and a favorite guest on both Fischer’s and Glenn Beck’s radio programs—argues that capital-gains taxes, collective bargaining, and minimum-wage laws are contrary to the Bible’s teachings.
These Bible-belt bigmouths have to get attention, and Terry Jones, of Gainesville, Florida's Dove World Outreach Church is no stranger to notoriety. He held the government and media at bay with plans to burn copies of the Quran. His stunt put his name on the front page of every newspaper, and his face on every national news program. The furor over the burning has subsided, so his latest publicity ploy is to hang Obama in effigy.

I do not believe this is protected free speech. This is a hate crime.

It's hard to fathom why anyone would do this, but it just puts into sharp focus the real reason for the attacks on Obama. They're less about his stand on gay marriage, or being progressive, the economy or his fights with an impossible and irresponsible Republican Congress, and more about Obama being African American.

To the news media's credit, they have apparently figured this guy has had his fifteen minutes of fame (or notoriety) already, so there hasn't been a whole lot of coverage of this atrocious display.

So let's call all of these attacks on Obama by Beck and his posse of fellow radio blowhards, or so-called "Christians" like Fischer and Jones, what they really are, ugly racism. That's the agenda of the right wing, to get a black face out of the White House and a white face back in. By playing on the worst prejudices and biases of their audiences they hope to achieve that goal.

*Went to Dallas Theological Seminary, holds a 1973 Bachelors Degree in Philosophy from Stanford.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy birthday, Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson is 70 today. I've collected a few of his songs by other artists, the Beach Boys, and the man himself. Happy birthday, Brian.

(The way YouTube works, if you've accessed this and some of the videos don't link up it's because they've been pulled for whatever reasons YouTube has. It isn't my fault!)

Vince Gill "Warmth of the Sun"

Billy Joel "Don't Worry Baby"

BBS "Surfer Girl"

Beach Boys "Good Vibrations"

Brian Wilson and the Corrs "God Only Knows"

Brian Wilson "Lay Down Burden"

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Owen Smith, illustrator

An artist bio of illustrator Owen Smith from California College of the Arts says:
Owen Smith’s illustration clients include Sports Illustrated, Time, Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker, for which he has created 15 cover illustrations. He has recently completed work on a new children’s book for Simon and Schuster.

Owen’s influences come from the WPA artists of the 1930s, Diego Rivera, and the lurid covers of pulp magazines and dime-store paperbacks of the 1930s and 1940s. His paintings have been featured in exhibitions in New York, Rome, and Milan as well as solo shows in Los Angeles. In 1998 a set of mosaic murals Owen designed was permanently installed in a New York subway station at 36th Street in Brooklyn.

Currently Owen is designing permanent art for a historic San Francisco hospital, including murals, mosaic, and relief sculpture.
Every one of Smith’s illustrations is rich with detail. In many he has a noirish view of violence either happening or about to happen. I can look at his pictures and design my own stories around them.

The latest New Yorker cover is something of a change of pace for Smith, illustrating a current news story that floated around a few weeks ago. New York City's Mayor Bloomberg wanted to ban 32-ounce cups of soda, claiming they contribute to obesity. In Smith's illustration a couple has broken the law over a jumbo-sized beverage.

Most of Smith's cover assignments for The New Yorker have been for their fiction issues. He's done other subjects as well, but the fiction issue covers are the ones I like best.

Covers Copyright © 2012 The New Yorker