Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Who do you like?

After the recent post where I mentioned Barack Obama-haters supporting Mitt Romney not for love, but for hate of President Obama, I read a newspaper article by Kathleen Hennessey of McClatchy News Service. In my paper it was headlined, “Why isn’t president tanking in polls? Voters like the guy.”


The article gives some statistics, showing that despite recession, a slow jobs recovery, an oil spill, the Obamacare controversy and some ugly fights with Congress, “Obama’s favorability is 54 percent, according to a recent USA Today-Gallup Poll. Respondents gave Romney a 46 percent favorability rating.”

To add to that statistic, “two-thirds of voters surveyed recently by the Wall Street Journal and NBC said they personally liked the president. Romney, the unofficial Republican nominee was personally liked by just 47 percent.

Not as likable.

“‘Basically, it looks like Romney’s personality is holding him back and Obama’s likability is helping him,’ said Jeffrey M. Jones, managing editor for the Gallup Poll. ‘It seems frivolous, but it matters.’”

Yes, it does. “Pollsters note that favorability ratings have been an accurate predictor in the last five elections, including the virtual tie of 2000. Vice President Al Gore went into the election with 56 percent of the voters having a favorable impression; George W. Bush was at 55 percent.”

“People tend to like their president.”

Romney’s recent foreign trip was not good. He wanted to portray himself as being good at foreign policy. He wanted to be liked in England, and then he opened his mouth. He wanted to be liked in Israel and it made the Palestinians angry with him. The whole excursion was a rough go, ill-advised if he meant to show his overall skill as a leader on a global level. (But then, according to an article in the Washington Post by Aaron Blake, quoting a Washington Post-ABC Poll, “One — yes, one — percent  of people said that foreign policy was the most important issue of the 2012 campaign. The problem for Romney coming off of this trip is even many of his staunchest defenders within the [Republican] party seem to have fallen back on a ‘He's not great but he doesn't need to be great’ argument.”)

I don’t know if Romney will get any better at presenting himself in the next couple of months, or make himself more likable. Can he learn how to be likable? I doubt it. My personal feeling is he’s like one of those guys we all know who try too hard to be friends and by doing so push other people away. But as stated in the McClatchy News article, Romney senior strategist Neil Newhouse “downplayed the [Obama] likability factor. ‘Likability doesn’t fix the economy. Likability isn’t helping the middle class.’

“And Newhouse pointed to the National Republican Convention in late August as a likely venue for showcasing Romney’s personal strengths. ‘People don’t really know Mitt Romney yet,’ he said. “By Election Day, I think they’re going to get a feel for who he is, what drives him.’”

Well, for Mr. Newhouse, getting to know Romney better might include letting us see his tax returns, so we can trust that he’s not lying to us or misrepresenting where his money is. It appears what drives him is money, acquiring it and keeping it. So far Mitt just isn’t doing that well with the likability or public-speaking-without-making-mistakes factors, the Richie Rich-factor, and now the foreign policy factor. If Mr. Newhouse factors those in, Barack Obama isn’t Mitt Romney’s opponent, Mitt Romney is Mitt Romney’s opponent.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brit wit: Mitt, twit

Just before the 2012 Olympics, Mitt Romney went to England, expecting to be hailed as a hero based on his credentials running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Then Mitt did what Mitt does. He stuck his foot in his mouth. It earned him savage scorn from the British press:

“Mitt the twit” has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? Democrats might want to use that phrase, but in private. It would be considered crass, even with the snake-belly-low standards of American politics, to come out and say it in public.

Mitt also got stung by a rebuke from the mayor of London, and this derisive comment from The Telegraph:

I don’t think the British like Mitt. They don’t need much of an excuse. Having lived under a class system for their whole history, the British recognize upper class twits when they see them. But the British incident is a minor diversion during the grind of a long campaign and bitter fight, and will be soon forgotten. The American electorate has a very short collective memory.

The British criticisms are funny to me because I’m a Democrat, but realistically it doesn’t matter what the Brits think of Mitt the twit. They don’t vote for our president. Headlines in the British press won’t make a difference to the right-wing American electorate, many of whom have proved they would vote for any ideological Republican nitwit. Remember who was in and out of popularity as potential presidential candidates earlier this year: Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and against such a field of the dregs of the American right-wing Mitt came out a “winner.” So, call him what you will, insult him all you want, but Mitt’s vote is safe with the hate-Obama crowd.

Mitt brings scorn on himself, and the Olympics goof is very minor in comparison. The example of him not releasing his tax returns brings rebuke, even from pundits of his own party. Mitt is a bumbler, albeit a wealthy bumbler, and public perception is he has something to hide. But he’d rather continue to hide it than come clean and shock the public with exactly how much he is hiding. A few months ago after a series of public gaffes, his wife, Ann, made a comment that she should do the talking and not him. Then recently Mrs. Romney fumbled when defending his decision not to release any more tax information, telling us “we’ve given all you people need to know.” That “you people” just didn’t go down very well. It sounded like a 2012 version of “you people stay in your place.” A serious flub, and now even Ann Romney has to zip her lip. But will it keep Republicans from voting for him? Don’t even entertain such a thought.

I believe that Mitt Romney could get caught slaughtering kittens and feeding them to the dog on the roof of his station wagon, and be forgiven by his base. Their hatred of Barack Obama would override any revulsion against Romney. In this world at this time, love for a candidate isn’t necessary. We’re all cynical. We know candidates have sold out, or are lying with every word out of their mouths, saying what their base wants to hear. Love isn’t the reason we vote. We just vote against the other guy, and the degree of our hatred for one candidate is the benchmark for supporting an opponent. To beat Obama they’ll even vote for a twit like Mitt.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In Capote Blood: the image of a killer

Recently I showed a detective magazine article on the criminal Barrow Gang, known mainly for its two famous members, Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie and Clyde were thugs, probably not worth their legendary status as outlaws. They were bank robbers and killers who achieved notoriety from the news media, and then they were killed in an ambush by a heavily armed posse. It’s interesting why some killers get historical status and others get a few minutes of infamy, then fade away.

I watched the movie Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman, and marveled (again) that two cretins, Dick Hickok and Perry Smith, murderers of a Kansas farm family in 1959, have historical status as celebrity criminals. That status has everything to do with author Truman Capote, who wrote In Cold Blood, a “non-fiction novel” which became a super best seller, and spawned a well-made hit movie. Hickok and Smith were no criminal geniuses. As crooks they were flops. After killing a whole family, their haul was a few dollars, They expected to find a safe with $10,000. The $10,000 was one of those underworld rumors from a cellmate of Hickok’s, who had once worked for Clutter.

My copy of the original edition of the book.

Although I've seen Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman before, this time I paid particular attention to the portrayal of Hickok and Smith. Unlike the morbid movie version of In Cold Blood, sympathy for the killers isn’t poured on. I knew it was disproportionate when my sister-in-law saw In Cold Blood and said, “I felt so sorry for Perry.” That would be the same Perry who slaughtered a tied-up and helpless family with a shotgun and administered a coup de grace by cutting a throat. His life story is sad, but so are the life stories of many people who don't kill. Perry Smith brought about the inevitable outcome to his miserable existence when he pulled the trigger on innocent victims. The era in which the movie was made had a strong anti-establishment sentiment in the air. A criminal was a rebel, sticking it to the man! Right on, bro! Criminals were sometimes portrayed as misguided souls, sent into their criminal acts by forces beyond their control. Well, sure. We all have forces beyond our control. At times we are all misguided souls. Even if a life story is horrible beyond belief, there's nothing in anyone’s life to justify or excuse murder. I don't know how much Perry Smith conned or cajoled Capote. The author was reportedly attracted to Smith, who used that attraction to his advantage. But Capote told the story as he saw it, and then his image of Perry Smith was put in the hands of a filmmaker, Richard Brooks, who directed the movie. It confirmed in grim black and white the impression of Smith that Capote had made.

Both movies, Capote with Hoffman, and Infamous, with Toby Jones, tell the story of Capote writing the book and interactions with Smith. I haven't seen Infamous in years. (It's apparently not in cable circulation like Capote.) I recall an awfully good performance by Toby Jones, but wondered why Daniel Craig was picked to play Perry Smith. I believe the use of actors who weren't movie stars (Clifton Collins, Jr in Capote, Robert Blake in the 1967 In Cold Blood) made for more believable Perry Smiths than a man who plays James Bond.

(That would be three film visions of a worthless killer. Not bad for keeping his name alive, eh?)

All the Capotes: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Truman Capote, and Toby Jones.

As you can see from the spread in the May 12, 1967 issue of Life magazine the movie was a big and important event, well-hyped, as was the best selling book before it.

Like other fame-seeking creative types, Capote was more famous than any of his books. His books have a lasting place in literary history and will be read generations from now, but Capote also used his celebrity as well as his odd appearance and effeminate mannerisms to create a persona. He made himself into a greater character than almost anyone in his books except, perhaps, Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. But like Hitchcock's association with his movies, Capote's books are probably better known because of him than the subject matter.

According to the movie Capote, after In Cold Blood Capote never finished another book. He died a few years later from complications of alcoholism.

Article Copyright © 1967, 2012 Time-Life

NOTE; I wrote this post before the Colorado theater shootings by James Holmes. Time will tell whether his name will go down in infamy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy birthday, E. F. Benson

Born 145 years ago today, on July 24, 1867, E. F. (Edward Frederick) Benson. Benson was a prolific author who also penned many ghost and weird stories.

“Mrs. Amworth” was published in 1924. It’s a vampire story, but it doesn’t hold to the myth that vampires can’t go about in daylight, and gives a new and interesting explanation for the undead status of a vampire.

The story is told in a traditional way, with no shocks or surprises, really, but some eerie imagery. The scene of the vampire floating outside of the window appears to be an inspiration for a similar scene in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot.

This printing is from the 1940s pulp magazine, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and includes a great illustration by the one-and-only Virgil Finlay.

Benson died in 1940, at age 73.

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Garbage Pail Kids book

If you were a kid junior high age or younger  in the mid-'80s (when my son was just that age) you probably remember Garbage Pail Kids. They were a gross and funny satire of the popular Cabbage Patch Dolls. The new book, Garbage Pail Kids, tells of their genesis at the Topps Gum Card Company, lead by Len Brown (who also produced the infamous 1962 Topps series, Mars Attacks) and Art Spiegelman (who wrote and drew the award-winning graphic novel, Maus). Garbage Pail Kids were perfect for the age group at which they were aimed. They were funny and grotesque. Just what kids love.

This is the new book, with all the cards through the first five series.

If she’d seen them my mom’s mind would have gone into meltdown, as it did in my own early teen years when I was reading Mad and Famous Monsters of Filmland and she was playing censor. I went the other way with my boy, allowing him to pick his own interests. (I believe if you think your parents were unreasonable with you, when raising your own children think of how your parents would have handled a situation, then do the opposite.) Besides, I liked the cards as much as he did.

With my son visiting us this weekend, just when the book arrived in the mail, I brought out his old Garbage Pail cards, of which I am now the caretaker. We looked at them and had a laugh. But for David it was a long time ago when he was a kid, and now he is concentrating on his career and raising his own children. That’s good, and I’m proud of him for it.

What I was left with after we looked at the cards is that he has progressed into adulthood, and while I’m thirty years older than him I have stayed in an adolescent stage he long ago left behind.

You can see what I mean by looking at some of my favorites from the collection:

Friday, July 20, 2012

Annie Fanny and her computer seduction

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since my wife bought us our first computer. It was an IBM PS/2, which used DOS-based Windows 3.1, and had a modem speed of 1200 mbs. Yow. At that rate it would take even the smallest file all day to download. But at the time it was good enough for me to use with a couple of e-mail buddies I met through the Prodigy internet service.* In retrospect it was so clunky I’m surprised anyone could use it, but we did.

I especially liked the word processing ability of the computer, even if the printer was a dot matrix.

We’ve come a long way, baby. I’ve had about six computers since then, not including my wife’s two laptops and a notebook (the laptops and notebook all still work).

What made me think about it was re-reading this story from Playboy, December 1981. Annie Fanny, as written and drawn by the early Mad team of Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, have done a tale of an early computer doing a lot of things that computers do now, over 30 years later. Of course the object of the computer savvy is to get into Annie’s pants. Does that still work? Of course it does. Check out the online dating services.

Copyright © 1981, 2012 Playboy

*One of the friends I met through Prodigy is still a friend, Eddie Hunter of Chicken Fat, a blog devoted to his interests, which about once a week or so includes his lifelong mania for Kurtzman, Elder and Mad comics.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happy birthday, Commander Cody

George “Commander Cody” Frayne is 68 today.

Commander Cody rocks out on lead vocals, backed up by Jerry Garcia, James Burton, Elvis Costello and Samar Hagar for “Riot in Cell Block #9” in a live jam from 1989:

Happy birthday, Cody!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The confessional obituary

This obituary, which appeared in my hometown newspaper on July 15, has been getting some national attention. Val Patterson, the man who wrote it, confessed to a theft of a safe from “The Motor View Drive Inn” (more accurately, it was called the Motor Vu Drive-In (theater), now long gone. Patterson also confesses why he was really not a Ph.D despite having the diploma: the university made a mistake, and Patterson didn't even know what the initials Ph.D stood for. Yet things worked out for him, anyway.

It's also a testament of love to his wife, and that's the part of the confession that moved me the most.

This should be preserved as a document, misspellings and all, of a life lived to its fullest, cut short by smoking. Val Patterson sounds like he was quite a guy, quite a character. If we all had to sit down right now and write an obituary for ourselves, what would we find to say?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Coincidental capture of the suspected child murderer

Continuing our crime and criminal postings, with a local case lately much in the news in Utah.

Six-year-old Sierra Newbold was stolen from her home in West Jordan, Utah during the night of June 26, 2012. She was taken to a nearby burned field, raped, strangled, and left in a canal where she was found.

How her alleged killer was caught is a story of a series of coincidences, and according to the West Jordan police chief, “divine intervention.”

Three days after the murder, Terry Lee Black, 41, a neighbor of the Newbold family, stole a Jeep Grand Cherokee from the parking lot of a Deseret Industries thrift store on south Redwood Road. The woman who owned the car came out to find it gone. She called police and then her boss to tell her the car had been stolen. Black took the stolen car a few blocks south to a Wells Fargo Bank, where he walked in, told the teller he wanted $100, and that it was a robbery. He showed no weapon. The teller was puzzled, and then he held up four fingers. “You mean $400?” He responded that he now wanted $4000. She told him she needed to go to the vault, and when she turned he walked out of the bank.

At that time, by coincidence, the boss of the woman whose car was stolen arrived at the bank. She recognized the stolen car and saw Black attempting to get in. She told him to stay away from the car. He turned and walked away. She took a cell phone video of him. He turned his head to look back and his face is plainly seen on the video.

The call went in to police. When he heard of it detective James Bigelow, who was investigating Sierra's murder, and using what his police chief called his instinct, “felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up.” Black was stopped and arrested three blocks away. Bigelow noticed that even though Sierra had been killed three days before, Black's pants showed black soot on the knees. Bigelow suspected Black had knelt down in the burned grass, and forensic tests showed he was correct. They also swabbed Black's penis and DNA tests showed that Sierra's DNA was present. Black was arrested for the murder. What luck for the cops that Black hadn't showered in the three days since the murder.

If you wrote a script based on the synchronicity of events no one would believe it.

Unlike West Jordan police chief Douglas Diamond, I don't believe it was divine intervention,* but a bunch of lucky breaks that all came together like the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Black, with his attorney on the charge of robbery.

Black, as a neighbor of the Newbolds, would have seen Sierra. Black’s family attended church at the local Latter-day Saints ward with the Newbolds, and Black occasionally attended with his family. His neighbors also knew him to disappear for weeks at a time, going on alcoholic binges.

Black has been arraigned for the robbery and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail. Another hearing is set for July 31, at which time he may be charged with murder. Prosecutors are being careful, but say that a penalty for first degree murder can be death, and that they would decide whether they would seek that penalty.

On a personal note, a week ago we brought our granddaughters, ages seven-and-a-half and six-years-old to stay with us for a month. I looked at them in a whole different way after what happened to Sierra. I will never understand a mind that could conceive of or carry out a crime like that, but unfortunately it happens more than we like to admit. Black had been in trouble with the law before, but never for crimes that rose to the level of those with which he’s charged. Was alcohol a factor? Saying he disappeared for weeks to go on alcohol-fueled binges would give him something of an out for a claim of diminished capacity, and maybe it would be true. Regardless of a defense, a home surveillance video at the Newbold's home shows someone entering their house at 3:05 a.m. on June 26, and leaving with a bundle under his arm at 3:13. It shows calculation. Even if drunk or of a diminished capacity he knew enough to gain entry.

Black's family is said to be in shock over the arrest and charges against him.

As part of a written statement, the Newbold family said: “We offer our sympathy to the Black family during this sad time since they too are grieving a loss. We want everyone to plainly understand that we hold no animosity in our hearts toward Terry Black’s wife and children. We fully recognize that they played no part in this tragedy, and hope that the community and the media will be sensitive to their pain and gentle in their treatment of them.” That's a long way from forgiving Terry Lee Black, but it shows an attitude of kindness, not revenge.

*A letter in the Salt Lake Tribune “Public Forum” said if it was divine intervention it would make sense the intervention would have occurred before the murder, not after it was committed. It's like arguing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It makes more sense to just believe that a crime was committed and a killer caught, and leave opinions of divine intervention to private, not public, conversation.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Bonnie and Clyde and the Bloody Barrow Gang

I’m having so much fun with the crime theme this week I’m continuing it today.

Bonnie and Clyde. The names evoke images of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty from the 1967 movie of the same name. The movie, no big surprise, was a romanticized version of the story. As told in this article from the March, 1965 issue of Detective Cases Bonnie and Clyde were not Beatty and Dunaway. Bonnie and Clyde caught the public’s fancy in the Depression days of the 1930s and their movements were followed eagerly by newspaper readers.

The article gives a fairly concise version of the Bonnie and Clyde story. What was shown in the movie of the deaths of the bandit duo was substantially correct. They were ambushed and shot to death by lawmen. But the name of Frank Hamer, who led the posse, is omitted from the magazine article. Hamer was an old-time lawman, and it was probably fitting he led the posse. Bonnie and Clyde, like the other famous traveling bank robbers and criminals of that time, were the last gasp of the nineteenth century era of Frank and Jesse James. The modern bandit gangs rode in Fords rather than on horses, and they used submachine guns instead of six-shooters, but they were still up to the same nefarious occupation.

The killing of Bonnie and Clyde was more of an assassination. Two dangerous, armed fugitives who shot to kill were ordered to be brought to justice, dead or alive. The posse chose dead. For the law it wrote an end to another bandit team, but not the legend of a pair whose exploits are still being talked about 70 years after their deaths.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Being different is no crime, being too different is

We've gotten on to a crime and criminal theme this week.

My son, reviewing some of my favorites from the SLCMugshots website said, “I wonder if some of these people are criminals because of the way they look.” He meant things beyond their control, like this unfortunate individual:

If I get a zit on my nose I hide out in a dark room for three days until it’s gone. I can't imagine facing the world, knowing people will be startled by your appearance. He was arrested for controlled substance, and I don't know what that means, but I would think pain pills. I imagine whatever did this to him might cause him a lot of pain, both physical and mental.

Above: charge is forgery.

I'm not excusing criminal actions, but sometimes you can see an individual has a very rough path to walk.

On the other hand you have guys who deliberately make themselves ugly. These guys think marking up their heads with tattoos is cool or sexy, and I'm on record as saying it’s idiotic to brand yourself as so antisocial that you illustrate your face. A person who does that makes himself not only unemployable, but more easily identified if he commits crimes.


Aggravated assault:


I forgot to write down the reasons these two  Queequegs were arrested:

It's not enough this guy wears his hostility inked on his head, but he also wears a shirt to emphasize it:

Above: the charge states simply, “Hold for U.S. Marshals.” He could run, but he couldn't hide with a face like that.

These guys can change their appearance with haircuts:

Above, “Failure to appear.”

Above: busted for weed. You think when the cops spotted his dreadlocks they got some Rastaman vibrations about him?

Above: this fellow not only needs a haircut, but a comb as well. He was arrested for “no auto insurance,” which I didn't realize was an offense that could land one in jail. Maybe he caused an accident through negligence. After all, he doesn't pay attention to his appearance, maybe he gives the same degree of care to his driving.

Above: this man needs to change his shirt. “Lewdness with a child” is the charge. KISS my . . . what?

I call these guys the Braidy Bunch:

Above: drug paraphernalia.

Above: driving under the influence.

Above: weapons violation.

Only one woman made the list today:

I forgot to write down the charge for “Batgirl,” but she's smiling, at least. As my wife, Sally, put it, “Maybe those bats are looking for a dark cavern.” Ho-ho! Good one!

Last, none other than Thomas Jefferson made the mugshots website on Independence Day. He was charged for “tax evasion, sedition, treason and miscegenation.”

Lest you think I made that one up, I took a digital photo from my monitor of the web page:

Above: I'm not sure what the ad headlined “SHIT” is about, but it shows a horse. Horseshit...huh. Very strange, even for a website full of strange people.