Saturday, November 29, 2014

War by remote control

Look out below!

“The Unblinking Stare” by Steve Coll in the New Yorker for November 24, 2014, is a chilling reminder that there are places in the world where the United States is an angry god — sending death from the skies to those sinners who have incurred its wrath. As described by Coll in the article:
“Being attacked by a drone is not the same as being bombed by a jet. With drones, there is typically a much longer prelude to violence. Above North Waziristan [Pakistan tribal area], drones circled for hours, or even days, before striking. People below looked up to watch the machines, hovering at about twenty thousand feet, capable of unleashing fire at any moment, like dragon’s breath. “Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more,” Malik Jalal, a tribal leader in North Waziristan, told me. “They turned the people into psychiatric patients. The F-16s might be less accurate, but they come and go.”
All I have to do is use my imagination and think what it would do to me if I saw a drone in the sky over my house. Psychiatric patient, indeed.

The idea of a pilotless aircraft able to attack enemy forces is not new. It was shown in this page from the January 9, 1956 Life magazine. Despite being attached by a wire, even the wingless craft shown here seems fairly sophisticated. I don’t know how far this particular project went, or if there were other projects before it that led to the one in the photo. I can surmise that for decades the American military has been working on just such a project. Right now a pilot can sit at a location in the United States and fly a craft halfway around the world. It then can be then used to bring death and destruction. As with all weapons, sometimes it takes out the innocent as well as the guilty.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bill Cosby and Bob Hope and that old devil Sex

Bill Cosby, one of the most popular American actor-comedians of the latter half of the 20th century, is experiencing a definite fail when it comes to public opinion. Several women have come forward to allege that they have been raped by him. The reason he isn’t in prison right now is because he paid them off. And, in that grand legal tradition, the statute of limitations on the crimes has expired. Whatever he did then he cannot be prosecuted now.

Bill Cosby might be wearing this very expression as you read this.

Reading the stories of the women has been a reminder of the Janus-faced ability of some men to be good guys in public, yet criminals in private. The stories about Cosby began to surface some years ago, just about the time his 37-year-old son, Ennis, was murdered on the side of a freeway. Public sympathy swayed toward Cosby and the rape stories were quickly buried. Of course Cosby, as well as his publicists, have vehementally denied that there is anything to the allegations. Why wouldn’t they? At this stage of Cosby’s career if he admitted he had been drugging and having sex with semi-conscious females, then paying for their silence,that would put a real damper on a magical and trail-blazing career. Cosby was one of the first African-American comedians to break through to the larger white audience in the sixties with his popular mainstream comedy albums. His appearance as a lead in a popular television, show, I Spy, that decade was equally groundbreaking.

Cosby refuses to talk about any of the allegations, preferring to issue general denials and then stand mute on specific charges.

It is probably too late to salvage his reputation.

I did an Internet search, hoping that cast members of his sitcom, The Cosby Show, might have come forward to tell their own stories, or deny that they knew of, or were privy to, any of the stories about Cosby. So far the only one I have been able to find is from Raven-Symoné, who says any stories of her being taken advantage of by Cosby are false.

No quotes from Phylicia Rashad,* Malcolm-Jamal Warner, or Lisa Bonet, as of this date. Are they being approached by reporters and asked their opinions? My guess is that when they were on the show they signed non-disclosure agreements.

Besides Cosby’s fellow sitcom cast members being quiet, I haven’t heard a lot of outrage from the general public. Maybe we have become immune to celebrity scandals. We love them, but maybe we just aren’t so surprised when we find out people we have put on pedestals don’t really deserve such an honor. Yet we also have a problem when we have a public persona that is well established, when we find out there is a darker side we have not experienced. There was some resistance to the stories about Cosby the first time around. The repetition of the charges has now sunk in. The women who have come forward with stories of Bill Cosby’s crimes found out firsthand that just because a person makes you laugh does not make them a good person. Just someone who can tell a joke.

Bob Hope. Ethel Merman...really?

Another famous 20th century celebrity, Bob Hope, is the subject of a new biography by Richard Zoglin, Hope: Entertainer of the Century. I have not read the book, but reviews have picked up the non-traditional view of Hope as a serial adulterer who cheated on his wife, Dolores,** throughout their marriage. A review in The New Yorker describes Hope having sex with Ethel Merman — of all people! — in doorways on 8th Avenue in New York. The difference with Hope’s sexual proclivities is that none of them are described as rape. Hope is linked to other women, including a longtime affair with Marilyn Maxwell.

Maxwell and Hope in 1953 doing a little squeeze for Off Limits.

The difference with Bob and Dolores Hope is that they are dead. Hearing about the secret histories of the long dead is just more historical record. It has little impact on me now to know that Bob Hope, a man I thought was a straight-arrow type, was another horny male...much like the character he played on radio, television and his movies.
*UPDATE, January 21, 2015: Rashad did come forward in early January, with statements that spanned two days:

Ms. Rashad, speaking to Roger Friedman of Showbiz 411, said that she had never seen any of the behavior attributed to Mr. Cosby, a longtime friend.

. . . “Forget these women,” Ms. Rashad said. “What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”

The next day, ABC News quoted Rashad:  "We are really missing what is wrong here, which is, this is the United States of America. I know it's changing, but it's still the United States of America and there are tenets that we live by," she told ABC News today. "There is the Constitution of the United States, which ensures innocence until proof of guilt and that has not happened.

“But what has happened is declaration in the media of guilt, without proof. And a legacy is being destroyed because of it. It's being obliterated."

Rashad, 66, worked with Cosby for more than seven years, playing his wife, Claire Huxtable, on The Cosby Show. While she never intended to publicly speak about the allegations made against her former co-star, she said she was dismayed to see that she was falsely quoted as saying, “Forget about these women" in a recent story by Roger Friedman's Showbiz 411.

"I am a woman. I would never say such a thing. I would never think such a thing," she said. "My message is, what happens to a nation in which people knowingly and willfully disavow the tenets that describe the nation? ... This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of a legacy."
 **An unusual fact is that no marriage certificate has ever been found for Hope and Dolores. His divorce decree from his first wife is found, but his marriage to Dolores is not supported by documents. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Writing worth reading: William Tenn and Jean Shepherd, and two examples of the humorous essay

There is an old saying: I can read writin’, but I can’t write readin’. That would be true if we did not let precedents be our guides. Reading is a good way to learn how to write, and if you are going to do that why not learn from the best?

William Tenn (1920-2010), whose real name was Philip Klass, was a writer who wrote humorous short science fiction stories. He also wrote this essay about his mother for the magazine, P.S., in 1966. Using the quirks of a late parent is fair game for a writer. Tenn’s story, “My Mother Was a Witch,” about the curses Yiddish women used to lay on others in the New York of the 1920s is very funny. Is it exactly true? I don’t know. But it is a great example of the humorous personal essay.

Copyright © 1966 William Tenn

I don’t think anyone believed Jean Shepherd’s stories of his childhood, his mother, brother, and his “old man,” were true. He wrote at least a couple dozen of them for Playboy in he 1960s. I read them when I was in the Army and passed them around to my friends. We looked forward to a Jean Shepherd story as much as the Playmate of the Month. Shepherd (1921-1999), a radio personality, was great at extemporaneous stories for his program, but he was also a genius at writing carefully crafted funny fiction. They were collected in books like In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, and The Ferrari In the Bedroom. But what made Shepherd’s indelible and enduring mark on the world was his distinctive voice as narrator telling a tale of his childhood in a movie adapted from several of his Playboy stories, A Christmas Story.

Here he got away from his personal stories and did something any writer can do, collect humor from the daily newspaper. “Triviata Globus” is a collection of various news articles Shepherd took as the basis for his wry observations. It is from the same issue of P.S. as the piece by Tenn.

Copyright © 1966 Jean Shepherd

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

In the Internet Age, revenge goes viral

This tale of an employee resignation came to me via e-mail. I have no way of knowing whether it is true or not, but it is funny. If true, the unnamed young woman has been wronged by a boss and airs her grievances using a public forum. She uses today’s technology to spread her story.

I wonder if it was a YouTube video and someone made screen grabs to create this funnies-like sequence.

I almost feel sorry for Spencer, the former boss. In the not-so-distant past this would have been a private conversation within the company about sexual harassment and a hostile workplace environment. It has become a public scolding. I also wonder about the potential future employers of the young woman. Will they think they should pass her over because what she has done here could also happen to them?

She might have thought it out a bit more; she cannot call it back at this point. But had she squelched it after second thoughts we would not have had the pleasure of seeing this: