Monday, June 29, 2015

THE COLOR OF BABY POOP

   Diane Keaton plays her cinematic roles with such precise imagination that it can be fun to argue that no one else could have embodied her characters in the early Woody Allen movies, or in Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Crimes of the Heart, The Godfather, The Little Drummer Girl, or the majority of her other successes. It also holds true that on rare occasions some of us wince in pain when exposed to movies beneath her talent, movies that failed less because the roles were uninteresting and more because the premises of these films subvert the proud deviations her best works have celebrated.
   Baby Boom (1987) stinks on ice. 
  No reasonable person can blame the odor on the acting. Keaton, Sam Shepard, James Spader, Sam Wanamaker, the twins who play the baby, even the typically estimable Harold Ramis all work their lines with brilliance. The script itself--and its directorial delivery--smells up the theater in this movie. It accomplishes this formidable task by its fevered embracing of the Yuppie Aesthetic so omnipresent during the 1980s love affair with what some sociopath decided to call romantic comedies. 
  Keaton plays J.C. Wyatt, an executive in some corporation who puts in a one hundred hour work week, has scheduled sex sessions with her paramour that last one full minute, and certainly has no time for a baby of her own. When one gets handed to her (it doesn't really matter how this comes about), she resists the idea and eventually gives in (as we know she will because otherwise there's no movie and what are we all doing sitting together in the cinema?) and moves, as all yuppies do, to the country where she develops her own brand of baby food which takes off like the Yarnell Fire and sweeps across the nation because clearly Keaton's character is made of stronger stuff than you or (especially) me. 
   If the storyline sounds moderately uninspired (I'd call it immoral, but I've taken a twelve minute vow of restraint), you should check out the dialogue that was geared for yucks.


Doctor Jess Cooper
You know, you kind of remind me of some kind of bull terrier.


J.C. Wyatt
I'll bet you say that to all the girls.

And then there's:


J.C. Wyatt
I can't have a baby because I have a twelve-thirty lunch meeting!

   I know. Sad, isn't it? Perhaps the musical accompaniment will enhance the experience of being subjected to pre-programmed drivel? No chance. The songs were by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager, the latter once described in writing as being so laid back it's a wonder she can stand up. 
   No, the entire enterprise (and that word is selected with serious intent) exists for no other reason than to reinforce the psychotic drive to be the best you can be by enlisting a supreme act of will and drive, one which deprives the actor of any auxiliary aspirations--doing what you do for the good of the company, the husband or boyfriend, the species, the child, the town--when there is no Godly reason to expect any person to forego an appreciation of the things in life that actually matter, things such as the company, boyfriend, species, child, town--things that might be valued if the actor/savior (after all, her name is J.C. for a reason) weren't so busy burning herself out to appreciate them. 
   Maybe that's one reason no one uses the word "yuppie" any more. It's certainly the main reason nobody rushes to Netflix or elsewhere looking up romantic comedies from the 1980s.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

SPIDER FEAR

  "If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read 'President can't swim.'"
   --Lyndon Johnson


   Steven Spielberg served as the uncredited second unit director, the man responsible for shooting stunts, establishing shots, inserts and cutaways. Uncredited or not, his prints glow on Arachnophobia (1990), which is one of the sources for the expression "The Spielberg glow." In movies such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this appeal to wholesome mischief is appropriate. In a movie about spiders--specifically bad spiders--the glow gets in the way. 
   The idea for the story is as old as horror movies themselves. Jeff Daniels plays a doctor who moves his family to the country to escape the pressures of city living only to find an insidious trail of monsters awaiting him, threatening the very sanctity he so desperately wants. Okay, so there's only so many plotlines in the world and as such things go, that one stinks less than most. 
   Dan Jacoby, Al Williams, and Wesley Strick came up with the story, which Pauline Kael referred to as resembling a Boy Scout remaking Jaws. That's a funny line, Pauline, and I've always wanted to work it into a review of my own and if you weren't already deceased, I'd be worried about lifting it in such a shameless manner. 
   But back to Spielberg, first-time director Frank Marshall ground bones with the Spiel Man on Back to the Future, Poltergeist, Raiders of the Lost Ark and other glowing balls of good clean fun that eschewed logic for brain drain. But influence does not equal exchange just as correlation fails to equal causation. For instance, in the aforementioned Jaws, the title character is the emotional focus of the film, the vortex around which the personal relationships in the story spin. In Arachnophobia, the monster is a transplanted tarantula that sets up a kingdom in Jeff Daniels' barn. Yet the monster does not dominate the attention of the audience. That honor goes to John Goodman, in the guise of the perfectly named Delbert McClintock, the town exterminator. We welcome his intrusions into the prefabricated anxiety we keep expecting to feel from the platoon of killer spiders. We want Goodman to argue with Daniels, to seduce Daniels' wife, to haul out the blowtorches and napalm the barn in order to save it--something, anything! As the only person in the movie who swings emotional content, we virtually yearn for Goodman to save the picture. But that would shift the glow from E.T. to Animal House, something the Spielberg folks--who are more terrified of chaos than any other major filmmakers--simply could never endure. So instead of Goodman doing what we can see he wants to do, we get impotent attempts at humor such as this:

Molly Jennings (the wife): Why is all the wood rotting?
Delbert: I'll tell you why. Bad wood.
Molly: So what do we do?
Delbert: Tear out bad wood. Put in good wood. 

Or. . .

Delbert: Would anyone object if I tore this floor out?
Molly: I would.
Delbert: False alarm then. Lead on.

  As a result, people filing out of the theater say things like, "That was cute" rather than saying "That thing scared me to death!" 
   I imagine Spielberg must occasionally feel akin to Lyndon Johnson. Here is a man who has created the cinematic equivalents of Medicare, The Voting Act and the Civil Rights Act and yet people just can't quite get over that darned Vietnam thing. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

ALL THE WAY FROM ALICE

   Any motion picture with the decency to begin with a song by Mott the Hoople leaps into the world with enough credibility to sustain damn near anything, including a script by Robert Getchell that has not necessarily aged all that well, a performance by Kris Kristofferson which (while being his overall best acting job) does not bode well for his thespian future, and some issues that get raised while often cancelling out one another. While I must admit that I am not one of those film critics who genuflects every time the name Martin Scorsese is mentioned, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1975) remains one of his best films, right up there with Taxi Driver and Goodfellas in the sense that as a member of the audience you believe you are right there in the thick of things, hurting and laughing and smacking your fists. 
   Ellen Burstyn plays Alice, a recently single mom who moves Arizona to start a new life with her young son. Alice is a singer and she plans to make it big in Monterey, California. She is also a realist, so she knows she will have to work some toilets and dives before getting discovered by the right talent scout. She is not a pessimist, however, and so she expects to at least get a shot at performing in divers and toilets. Instead she finds herself waiting tables at Mel and Ruby's Diner in Tucson. It is there that she meets Diane Ladd as her co-worker Flo, Vic Tayback as Mel, and Harvey Keitel as a snake in the grass. 
   Scorsese's contribution to the film's success lies in his willingness and ability to exploit useful realism while not getting bogged in pointless minutiae. So we find Alice and Flo sharing a laugh about Vera's boyfriend, Tommy the son belittling Kristofferson's love of "shit-kicking" music, and especially Jodie Foster's performance as a pre-teen seductress and shoplifter (and when will the retired Ms. Foster be recognized as one of the greatest actors of her generation?), any one of which episodes--much less all of them--so true to life that we struggle with the natural affinity between laughing and crying. 
   This movie recently played again on TMC's "Essentials" where hosts Robert Osborne and Sally Field repeatedly referred to it as Scorsese's first movie. It was no such thing. Discounting documentaries and shorts, there was still Who's That Knocking at My Door from 1967 with Harvey Keitel and Boxcar Bertha in 1972 with David Carradine, either one of which might be reasonably overlooked. But how could these two presumed experts not remember Mean Streets from 1973? Especially since that was the film that at long last put Robert De Niro on the map (another name intended to cause the audience to bow) and that most of its success was enhanced by the director's unauthorized use of Phil Spector's "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes. 
   Beats me. 
   Alice remains a great movie. Also starring Valerie Curtin as Vera and Alfred Lutter as Tommy.


HEED THEIR RISING VOICES

   Absence of Malice (1981).

   The truth of a given writing has not always been considered a legitimate defense in support of its publication. It was not until 1734, when John Peter Zinger published a satirical article about colonial governor William Cosby, that the suggestion of truth as a defense became relevant in defamation cases in what would soon become the United States of America. Defense attorney Andrew Hamilton convinced the jury that if a published statement can be proved true, then the charge of defamation cannot hold. Verdict for Zenger.
    Forward to 1960. The New York Times published an advertisement titled "Heed Their Rising Voices." The ad addressed what the writers construed as an attempt to intimidate newspaper publishers from reporting on Southern actions against participants in the civil rights movement. The ad further alleged that the arrest of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. for perjury in Alabama was part of a campaign to destroy King's efforts to integrate public facilities and encourage blacks to vote. L. B. Sullivan, the Montgomery city commissioner, filed a libel action against the newspaper and four black ministers who were listed as endorsers of the ad, claiming that the allegations against the Montgomery police defamed him personally. Under Alabama law, Sullivan did not have to prove that he had been harmed. A defense claiming that the ad was truthful was inapplicable since the ad contained minor factual errors (the ad stated that Montgomery had arrested King seven times, whereas he had been arrested only four times, for instance). Sullivan won a $500,000 judgment.
   The Times appealed to the United States Supreme Court. That court ruled in favor of the newspaper, stating "The First Amendment protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct of public officials except when statements are made with actual malice (with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity)."
   Thus was established the concept that even false statements are not libelous unless the person who claims he or she was defamed can prove that the writer or publisher was motivated by their dislike of the individual to do the proper checking to make sure the words correctly reflect reality.
   In director Sydney Pollack's movie Absence of Malice, Paul Newman plays Mike Gallagher, a Miami liquor wholesaler who may have some connection to organized crime. After all, he is in the liquor business in Miami. Megan Carter, played by Sally Field, is the reporter who gets fed a false story about Gallagher by the FBI. She publishes the false tale and Gallagher takes her pretty ass to court. 
   This could have been a moderately entertaining and even an important film. Newman does what he does best: he allows his boiling intensity to fester beneath the surface without exploding into the camera. Someone (maybe Stella Adler, I don't know for certain) said that the key to acting is to develop the ability to show the character thinking one way and behaving another while both elements are clear to the audience. Newman does this with considerable panache. 
   Sally Field is not given that opportunity, which is a shame because she has the ability (as anyone who has seen Norma Rae or Places in the Heart can attest). Here she is given the task of being age thirty-nine and that is all. As a result, the audience cannot help but wonder what kind of sadistic impulse gripped the director that he would allow Newman tremendous freedom and yet hold Field back. 


ABOUT HIP

   About Last Night. . . (1986)

   Oh, what a sequence of disgust! But that is what one might expect from former "Saturday Night Live" writer-actor Tim Kazurinsky, who along with wife Denise DeClue, wrote this mess. Kazurinsky also appeared in some of the Police Academy exercises in banality. Unless your goal in life is to watch Demi Moore and Rob Lowe simulate genital-locking, this attempt at making gamesmanship "hip" will only amuse you because of the profanity of Jim Belushi, whose presence is refreshing mainly because his existence is the only part of the process that does not feel contrived whether in retrospect or real time. 
  The basis for the movie, David Mamet's one-act play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, exploited simple-minded tensions between the two primary genders better than the movie because the play did not opt to blast the audience with the kind of audial tripe then-current on MTV, whereas the movie uses the dialogue as filler for the sonic vomit of Sheena Easton and Jermaine Jackson. On the other hand, if the mention of the names of these two plastic people lift your heart into the realms of perpetual titterhood, then please reverse all the bile and vituperation above and get yourself several copies post haste. 
   None of this should be misconstrued to imply that director and Chicago native Edward Zwick did a bad job accomplishing what he set out to do. About Last Night boasts a slickness that speaks to its self-confidence in exploiting the boring concept that men and women are often sexually attracted to one another without necessarily liking one another for any other reason, yet dressing up their desire in psychological excuses for not murdering one another, necrophilia being far too controversial for a movie that needs its audience to identify with its desperate craving for hipness. Zwick went on to direct Glory and Blood Diamond, each substantial improvements and better uses of his talents. 
  In 2014 some geniuses decided to remake the damned thing, this time moving the locale to Los Angeles and the race to African-American, both perceived by Sony Pictures as more hip than white Chicago. And hip is what this nonsense is all about.

Monday, June 22, 2015

PERMANENT SCARS

   The presumed controversy regarding the bearing of the Confederate flag--arising in no small part from the despicable assassinations of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina--seizes my memory and directs it to the closing scene in Quentin Tarantino's movie Inglorious Basterds
  The idea of taking down the evil banner of the Confederacy appeals to many of us. Its presence in and around government suggests a legitimacy the losers of the U.S. Civil War do not deserve. The winners of wars get to write the history books and therefore technically the South--being slave-owning, treasonous murderers--possess no rights whatsoever, a fact made clear by the necessity of Reconstruction. To harbor the secessionists' most sacred symbol--much less to allow it to be waved with pride as a testimony to the alleged sacrifice of dead hooligans--for purposes of reminding present and future generations of the value of their history makes me ill in the most violent of manners. Imagine Angela Merkel announcing to the German Parliament that the heretofore forbidden swastika is now to be prominently displayed outside the Reichstag building so that ancestors of those German men and women who gave their lives in World War II can share in the history of Deutschland's war against the Allied Forces. Such a declaration might--oh, what's the word?--piss a lot of people off.  
   Such mental noodling took my thoughts by the hand and brought me back to Tarantino's masterpiece of a film. The storyline concerns a Jewish-American special forces soldier, Lieutenant Aldo Raine (played by Brad Pitt), who leads a mission to wipe out the highest ranking Nazis during the showing of a propaganda film. His plot is discovered by an SS colonel, one Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Eventually, the SS Colonel admits that he knows the Axis powers will lose the war and arranges a deal between the Allies and himself. In exchange for his release and freedom from prosecution, the SS Colonel agrees to give information to the good guys, thereby hastening the end of the war and, one presumes, saving lives on all sides. What happens next provides a neat parallel to what I would like to see happen with the Confederacy-loving Southerners. Let's look at the screenplay.

Aldo and Uitivich climb down from the truck. 
Col.Landa indicates for Herrman to remove the handcuffs from the two prisoners. He does. 
COL.LANDA 
Herrman, hand them your weapon. 

He does. Col.Landa hands over his LUGER, and his very cool looking SS DAGGER

COL.LANDA 
I am officially surrendering myself over to you, Lt.Raine. We are your prisoners. 

LT.ALDO 
Thank you very much Colonel. Uitivich, cuff the Colonel's hands behind his back. 

COL.LANDA 
Is that really necessary? 

Uitivich cuffs the Colonel's hands behind his back.

 LT.ALDO 
I'm a slave to appearances. 

Aldo takes the Luger and shoots Herrmann dead. The bound Col.Landa is appalled

COL.LANDA 
Are you mad? What have you done? I made a deal with your General for that man's life! 

LT. ALDO 
Yeah, they made that deal, but they don't give a fuck about him, they need you. 

COL.LANDA 
You'll be shot for this. 

LT.ALDO 
Naw I don't think so, more like I'll be chewed out. I've been chewed out before. You know, Uitvich and myself heard that deal you made with the Brass. End the war tonight? I'd make that deal. How bout you Uitivich, you make that deal? 

UITIVICH 
I'd make that deal. 

LT.ALDO 
I don't blame ya. Damn good deal. And that pretty little nest ya feathered for yourself. Well, if you're willing to barbecue the whole high command, I suppose that's worth certain considerations. Now I don't care about you gettin pensions, merit badges, ticker tape parades, who gives a damn, let's all go home. But I do have one question? When you go to your little place on Nantuckett Island, I image you gonna take off that handsome looking SS uniform of yours, ain't ya? 

For the first time in the movie, Col.Landa doesn't-respond

LT.ALDO 
That's what I thought. Now that... .I can't abide. How bout you Uitivich, can you abide it? 

UITIVICH 
Not one damn bit, sir. 

LT.ALDO 
I mean, if I had my way, you'd wear that goddamn uniform for the rest of your pecker suckin life. But I'm aware that's ain't practical. I mean at some point ya gotta hafta take it off. 

He opens Landa's SS dagger and holds the blade in front of Hans face

LT.ALDO 
So I'm gonna give you a little somethin you can't take off. 

CUT TO CLOSE UP OF COL.LANDA The Dagger has just completed carving a swastika deep into his forehead

COL.LANDA'S POV: On the ground, looking up at Aldo, bloody knife in hand, who straddles him.. And Uitivich, who's next to him. The two Basterds admire Aldo's handiwork. 

LT.ALDO 
You know somethin Uitivich, I think this just might be my masterpiece.


   This is my proposal to the Confederacy-loving South. Those of you who love your heritage and history and pseudo nobility, those of you Daughters of the Confederacy twats who think it must have been sexy to stand on your plantation porches watching the young black men sweating shirtless in the fields, those of you who yearn for the days of the bullwhip and the burning crosses: it is time for you to wear your hatred and ignorance with the pride you claim you've earned. So after we burn down your fucking stars and bars, we'll be on our way to your bedrooms come about midnight and we won't bother knocking because what's the sense in waking you redneck peckerwoods up, what with all that hard work of hating and killing you all have to do every goddamned day, right? Yeah, we'll just creep in through the window, tie you down on your beds with your own bullwhips and carve a highly detailed Confederate battle motif right into your foreheads so that everybody you meet will know you for the rancid puke-sucking neo-Nazi fucks that you are. Oh, the physical pain will subside after a few weeks. But the emotional satisfaction you will get from our procedure will be worth every drop of blood you Gestapo-loving morons shed from yourselves. 
   Now of course none of us (us in this case referring to the Good Guys) will actually do any of that, most likely. Oh, we might burn down your idiot flags, but your Eva Braun governor will probably make that unnecessary. But just to keep everybody in the process nice and honest, we'll keep this idea of mine percolating just in case you sadistic monsters decide to shoot up any more of our churches.
   That's right. I said our churches. You rat fuckers don't have any of your own. Even though we're talking about the whole of the South, I'm reminded of a verse from Phil Ochs' song, "Here's to the State of Mississippi."

Here's to the churches of Mississippi
Where the cross once made of silver now is cake with rust
And the Sunday morning sermons pander to their lust
As the fallen face of Jesus is choking in the dust
And Heaven only knows in which God they can trust.

Those are your churches, white southern man. Our churches do not lack nobility, humility, or humanity. What they do lack--thank God--is murdering moron monsters who cringe at the first ray of sunlight, who shrivel at the whisper of kindness, who faint dead away at any type of purity. So go back to your heathen churches, take your assault weapons with you, blow one another away and leave the rest of us alone. Or you may just wake up with a set of permanent scars. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

PROTECTING AMERICA FROM ITSELF - A HEALTH CRISIS by Lisa Ann Goodrich Terzo

   I am sharing this after listening to the arraignment proceedings of Dylann Roof and the tearful pleas from the family members of the Charleston murder victims to God to please forgive the man who took their loved ones.
   I wonder if the crime itself would have even taken place if the shooter hadn't had access to a gun in the first place. The gun was given to him by his father and had been taken away by a friend who didn't believe Dylann should have it one night because he was intoxicated. Then just as quickly, it was returned to him the following morning. Later that same day, Dylann used that gun to kill the nine members of a prayer group who'd welcomed him into their circle. He even thought twice about even committing the crime because the church members were so kind to him.
  But, well, he'd driven all that way to Charleston and he had a gun with him, so...


   Egg prices soar as the nation panics over the outbreak of the Bird Flu. Communities and health authorities understandably spring into action over ebola threats or any other communicable disease outbreak. Our country strongly believes that no life should be lost to a disease or health crisis if prevention is possible. It would be unthinkable to believe or act any other way.

   However, preventing death caused by our own nation and people is apparently not so urgent. Read on.

  160 mass shootings took place between 2000 and 2013 resulting in over 486 deaths and 557 severe injuries. The government vowed to study the incidents to provide more transparency for more intensive training and prevention. Today June 18th, 2015 we are discussing yet another mass shooting. Nine killed. In a church.

  How many more studies need to be conducted? Is the "right to bear arms" really a relevant right at this point? Does that right hold more water than the right to worship in a church, attend a school, go shopping at a mall, or see a movie?

  Guns are not outlawed in other developed countries with much lower murder statistics than our country. Why is that? No one knows. I spent the evening reading study after study and not one single graph, map, or report could say why. I know why. America is simply not mature enough.

  Yep. America is too young. Just like 15 year-olds are too young to drive, and 18 year-olds are too young to drink, and you have to be 17 to see an R rated movie, America is not old enough to handle guns. So, the new rule, is citizens of a county younger than 300 years old don't get to carry guns. Period.

  Yeah. I can already hear you NRA babies rattling your chains and getting ready to tell me off. But, too bad. You're going after the wrong gal here. In this case, you need to take this up with the assholes that ruined it for the rest of you. Just like in school, when one kid acted up and the whole class had to stay after school. You gun fans let the wrong people play with your toys and now it's time for you all to stop playing with them.

  Now drink your milk and go to bed.
  
  -lat 61615

Friday, June 5, 2015

FOR OUR NEXT TRICK

  Now that we have one thousand of these pieces secured beneath the foot locker resting on the saturated sand of the red ocean floor, let us gaze, shall we, into the lens of our crystal Blackberries to determine the thrills and spills of our next spine-tingling adventures together in that aquatic, cavernous land we like to call Philroville. 
   Is it movies you favor, youngsters? Aye, that's good because the long-suffering roommate and I will be watching vastly more than our fair share of those--upon that you can count as fact. Indeed, twas this very day that she bought me a book what was called something to the effect of 1001 Movies You Better See Or Else We'll Jihad Your Sister's Milkcow For You, Ya Bastard! The title put me off a bit, at first, but soon enough I grooved to the implied irony and sized up that the people who compiled this tome thought long and hard about their choices for inclusion. So please avoid being surprised if in the days ahead you find us slipping back into celebrations of the solipsistic joys of movies from the golden age (1905 to the present). 
   Likewise music is making a comeback and in a big way, too. How long have you been living without playing Siren by Roxy Music and what precisely do you plan to do about it? Listen, I understand: you want to stay away from Art Rock and all the pomposities implied by groups such as Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, and their progeny's progeny's proteges. Forty odd years later most of it remains the most puerile pap ever pasted onto petroleum byproducts. But Roxy Music knew what it was doing and with Siren they made an actual rock and roll record that was big enough to contain all their overambitious genius potential while still communicating in an entertaining way. Hey, there will even be ample time allotted for you to mock Yours Truly for his admission here that until this very evening he did not realize that the woman on the cover of the Siren album was Jerry Hall and in fact was more than surprised to discover that the creature was even a human life form when what she more resembled than anything was a distracting mannequin intended to take the listener's mind off the intoxicating sounds in and on the recording's grooves. "Sentimental Fool" may be the best thing the band ever recorded, beginning with ambiance that sounds appropriate to Odysseus, then flitting soon enough into a beautiful Andy Mackay saxophone solo and some crusty Phil Manzanera guitar buzz, both of which simultaneously push and pull at Bryan Ferry's vocal synthesis of Dylan and Sinatra. So you can look forward to hearing more about that.
   We're going to read a lot more books in the near future. Back in college my friend Rick Wilson used to tease me by saying that English majors never read books; they only re-read books. I have to plead guilty to that. I've been re-reading the same hundred books now for decades, along with new items, too. But the life-changing books for any individual person are often limited to maybe fifteen to twenty books without which the reader feels somehow inadequate. In any case, I've dug up some from those very same college years, most of them with sophomoric titles such as Limits of Legitimacy, Conservative Uses of Liberal Reform, Conflict Theory and The Sociological Imagination. And yes I will be re-reading these musty dusty books. However, the ones getting talked or written about here will be other books, books by people such as Harper Lee, Hannah Arendt, Philip Roth, Paul Nelson, Pauline Kael, Nick Kent, Nick Tosches, Harlan Ellison, and the usual suspects, books which my more erudite friends pronounce with a trill as lititititeratutututure, dontcha know? 
   We shall also do our utmost to complete our stroll through the remaining states so that you do not feel abandoned in Connecticut. 
   Finally, with the recent discovery that many folks in our fair country have turned their backs on the idea of a Higher Power, this feels the right time to begin shunning spirituality and to return full bore back to good old religion, at least in the agnostic sense of the word. For those of you who may feel you have never encountered a more annoyingly pompous pack of rat tweezers than the local fundamentalist child-diddler at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, I commend to your attention the local heathen atheist whose smugness puts any ecumentalistist to shame. Remember how dense Beaver Cleaver was on TV in the fifties? Well, guess what, Pine Wood, he was just elected Mayor of your city and Eddie Haskell is his Chief Lieutenant. In the words of a once popular song, "They made you a moron/A potential H-Bomb." Correct. Rejecting religion is just as fat and lazy as mindlessly embracing it is simply because that's what daddy did. Turning your back on the idea of God means you've been eating too many McDonald's Toad Burgers, drinking too many bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade, watching far too many episodes of "The Duggars Meet the Prophylactic Queens of West Hollywood," and listening to far too many subliminal audio files from the grizzled dead belly of E. Howard Hunt. Make your own decisions and please don't bleed my ears by arguing that you are entitled to your opinion because what you are entitled to is an informed opinion and if your mind is shut then I do not see how you get your information.
     So don't be surprised if we irritate people with that type of digression.
   Oh, I should mention, just out of respect: I quit smoking--again. Today is what I like to call Day Three. I'm nervous, edgy, more intolerant of meshuga behavior than usual, and remain only instants from stripping off my clothes and swinging in the nearest banana tree while scratching myself with great vigor. 
   You have been warned.
   Well, hey, see you all next time. It'll be fun for one and all.
Jerry Hall, Bryan Ferry

   

Monday, June 1, 2015

CONNECT I CUT


   At a time when a reasonable person may be led to believe that the only east coast states are New York and New Jersey, it is our pleasure on this, the publication of the 1,000th article in Philropost, to postulate the notion that Connecticut, to all appearances, holds title to East Coast Progressive Paradise. More than a few reasons encourage this pronouncement, not the least of those being Governor Dannel Malloy (D.) 
  Who? Why, Dan Malloy! He served as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn before entering politics and his annual salary is $150,000. What more do we need to know?
   Quite a bit more, as it happens.
   Malloy won his first term as Governor in 2010 by less than 6,500 votes. He won again in 2014, defeating Thomas Foley a second time. 
   In exchange for union concessions, Malloy addressed his state's budget deficit by raising the state income tax, the gas tax, the sales tax, and the estate tax. Malloy decriminalized marijuana possession so that a first offense carries a fine of $150, as long as you don't sell the stuff to minors. The Governor signed the Transgender Rights Bill in 2011. He allowed the Service Employees International Union to unionize daycare workers. Thanks to the Governor, personal care attendants are now protected under collective bargaining agreements. In 2012 Malloy abolished capital punishment in Connecticut--unfortunately, this was not retroactive. At a time when some states are claiming they want balanced budgets and set out to get this on the backs of children, Malloy increased funding for early childhood education and impoverished school districts. Also in 2012 Malloy expanded voting rights by authorizing same-day voter registration. Following the Sandy Hook shootings, the Governor signed into law gun control rules that require background checks, prevent magazine capacities of more than ten rounds, and which add more than one hundred types of guns to the classification "assault weapons." In light of Indiana's religious tyranny law, Malloy banned state-sponsored travel to that state (He referred to Indiana Governor Mike Pence as a bigot on "Morning Joe.") Oh, and you can now buy alcohol on Sunday in Connecticut. 
   As Malloy told the Daily Beast following his 2014 victory: 
Tom Foley wanted it put out that there we raised taxes. And he talked about it month after month after month after month. But once people started to pay attention, I pointed out what we did with the money, which was lower the crime rate, increase graduation rates, invest in infrastructure, create a Housing Department, create an Energy Department, create a Department of Aging. We did all of these things. It was the right policy, and ultimately people came around.

    Now I can hear the shouting all the way up into my garret room: "I'll bet the cost of living in that left wing state would curl your hair, huh, boy?"
  To which I reply: My hair's already curly and please don't call me Shirley.
   Five states and Washington D.C. cost more to inhabit. But if you want to live in Hawaii, Alaska, New York, New Jersey, or California, who am I to stop you? 
   Some good people come from Connecticut: Richard Belzer, Ernest Borgnine, Art Carney, Michael J. Fox, Lillian Hellman, Denis Leary, Christopher Lloyd, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, Don Pardo, Ira Levin, Arthur Miller, and Philip Roth. Of course, the state has had its share of moral degenerates, including Ann Coulter, Don Imus, Dick Morris and Laura Ingraham. The Carpenters and Michael Bolton were from Connecticut, but so was Leonard Bernstein and Ronnie Spector. 
   The worst thing one can say about Connecticut is that it may be one of the homes of The Melon Heads, those small humanoids with bulbous noggins who arise from the outskirts of civilization to attack unsuspecting blue-haired women as well as small children who are usually on guard but who fall prey all the same. The best advice I've heard to prevent attacks from these inbreeding miscreants is to stay away from Dracula Drive. 
   All that said, thank you one and all for your support over the last few years as we have moved inexorably toward this, issue 1,000. With a bit of luck, we will live to write another day, or at least another night. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

COLORADO AND AMENDMENT 64

  Considering that I live in the stupidest city in the stupidest state, it may strike some as hypocritical of me to take critical jabs at certain other states on these electronic pages. After all, my lawful detractors rail, on May 29, 2015, a bunch of armed bikers are motoring into town to safeguard a public blasphemy outside an Islamic Mosque due to yet another pin the tail on Muhammed competition. And I have the nerve to point out discrepancies in the brain patterns of people in other states?
   That's an excellent point. 
   Do I contradict myself?Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes. And I say "Thanks, Walt."
   Nevertheless, I believe I shall proceed, governor.
   But not without a slight digression.
   On the subject of my own personal hypocrisy, it might be noted that I am self-righteous in the extreme when it comes to my opposition to the use of alcohol and other drugs. I don't use them, take them, snort them, sift them, smoke them, shoot them, swallow them, chew them, rub them between my cheek and gums, or otherwise nestle them up next to my own bad self. 
   That is to say, I have not done so for many years.
   Time was, children, when I was quite the beast when it came to imbibing of the poison grape, the powdery flake, the stinky weed, the mushroom gone awry, and on and on. In short, in the confusion of my wasted youth (and perhaps middle age), it was not uncommon for my bloodstream to resemble a cocktail mix of the hemoglobin from Hunter Thompson, Lindsay Lohan, and Bela Lugosi. Oh, I was so damned clever, stumbling up stairs, babbling bon mots to anyone unfortunate enough to fail to avoid me faltering along with my Burroughs and Vonnegut books tucked loosely inside my omnipresent backpack. 
   Now I want to be clear about this: I never succumbed to the music of the Grateful Dead or Pink Floyd. Then as now I preferred my music to resemble a cracked cup of what most people thought of as bile but which to my own wracked nervous system suggested the cool surrender of an atomic bath. The Sex Pistols, for instance, or mid-Sixties Dylan, or Warren Zevon any time, or Coltrane, Mingus, Carla Bley--anything other than music with which to study the wallpaper or with which to de-dandle up the catacombs of my Carolina mind with a six-pack of James Taylor in tow. No thank you, please, it gives me apoplexy. 
   So, yes, I used to get more than a little high. Then after a while I decided I didn't want to do that anymore. Somehow or other my hobby never crossed over into the land of addiction. Abuse, certainly. Addiction, nope. Lucky me. 
  When I drove a taxi I saw more than enough evidence of the destruction that harsh experimentation causes. People who had been working on their second or third DUI would learn to take taxis instead of driving, but never seemed to learn to stay away from the sickness itself. After wrestling a few sleeping Native Americans out of my backseat, after getting slapped on the back by snotty white guys looking for some feminine meat upon which to upchuck, after listening to mercenary DJs encouraging crowds of people in attendance to get as wasted as possible, I concluded that I had been unintentionally enriching a monied group of people for which I had always had a certain distain while doing damned little to benefit myself. As Dion DiMucci asked, "What has that stuff done for you so far?"
   For the last several years I have toted the tea. I drink Coca-Cola, smoke the occasional cigarette, and guzzle coffee by the gallon. I also eat as if food were about to be rationed tomorrow. But I do not take anything, as Hoyt Axton once said, that my spirit could kill. To further the musical allusion, I've seen a lot of people walking around with tombstones in their eyes, but the state of Colorado doesn't care if you live or if you die. 
   Anyone over twenty-one years of age can buy marijuana in the state of Colorado. The state claims 833 commercial marijuana shops. I do not approve of this.
   Hold on a second. Please do not understand me too quickly. No individual in this country should be arrested, go to jail, or even have to pay a fine for possession or use of marijuana. I think it makes people stupid and I do not like the idea of local, state or federal governments and businesses encouraging people to become even more mellow while our cities must confront things such as "armed bikers" on a Friday afternoon in May. However, the same thing may be said of television and we do not lock people up for using that. Besides, no credible evidence has ever existed that prolonged use of marijuana permanently affects brain development, impairs learning ability, or causes depression. 
   There is, I think, something of a difference between a law that says it is no crime to possess or even sell marijuana and a law which permits merchants from opening up stores that specialize in all sorts of designer types of buzz. I call it commercial exploitation. They call it making money while stoners wave goodbye to their wallets. 
   Actually, that is not what Colorado calls it at all. The entire retail marijuana industry in Colorado is regulated by MED, or the Marijuana Enforcement Division of the Colorado Department of Revenue. If you're interested, you can read the retail code. According to the Huffington Post, Colorado's marijuana trade is valued at $700 million per year. 
  All of this came about as the result of a popular initiative ballot measure to amend Colorado's State Constitution to allow that adults of legal age can legally grow up to three immature and three mature cannabis plants privately in a locked space, that they can possess all the cannabis they themselves grow, that they can legally possess up to one ounce while traveling, and that they can present as a gift up to one ounce to another citizen of age. That all sounds supremely righteous and appropriate. It is, in short, a nice way to keep the government out of your personal recreation, however much some of us may personally disapprove of your lifestyle choices. Ultimately, this part of the law says that your lifestyle decisions are none of my business and that sounds good to me. 
   Where the pipe meets the butane is with the commercial portion of Amendment 64. The new state law allows for the licensing of cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores. 
   The commercial component of industrial hemp has long been a sore spot with marijuana enthusiasts. A book by Jack Herer called The Emperor Wears No Clothes is a source for hemp conspiracy theories. Herer claims that in the mid-1930s, "when the new mechanical hemp fiber stripping machines to conserve hemp's high-cellulose pulp finally became state of the art, available and affordable," Hearst, with vast holdings in timber and investments in paper manufacturing, "stood to lose billions of dollars and perhaps go bankrupt." Meanwhile, DuPont had just patented nylon and "a new sulfate process for making paper from wood pulp." So "if hemp had not been made illegal, 80 percent of DuPont's business would never have materialized."
   The only problem with this theory is that thirty states had already enacted some type of anti-marijuana laws before the federal law happened in 1935. Granted, the Hearst papers lobbied publicly in favor of criminalization. But it is quite possible their objections were as much race-based as financially motivated. 
   In any event, my concern--which I hope will not be misunderstood--is that a batch of yuppies and their backers will do quite well with the marijuana trade while the message gets sent via state government that getting wasted in yet another way is something sanctioned by the government. You see, people have a tendency to psychologically identify with big organizations, be it Lockheed, The PTA, or the State of Colorado, probably because we as individuals feel so small (I commend to the reader a book by Philip Slater called The Pursuit of Loneliness.) For good or ill, we westerners tend to place great value on commerce, rationalizing that most things that we can legally buy can't really hurt us or else they wouldn't be legal, despite the deaths caused every year by the legal consumption or use of cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, motor car accidents, airplane crashes, overdoses of prescription medications, gun shots, and movies starring Tom Cruise. 
   Oh, this is probably just me whining because I couldn't handle the stuff myself without lapsing into a prolonged trance which no one but me found endearing. Sure, that's probably just right.
   Or it might be that our collective attention spans have already been severely diminished by an abundance of electronica and other distractions, the mental mechanisms for which are lubricated, as it were, by the patchouli oil industry and their slavering sycophants in the hemp herd. 
Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon: Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead

Saturday, May 23, 2015

CALIFORNIA DUST BOWL

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water – and the problem started before our current drought.
                 --Jay Famiglietti, NASA senior water scientist, March 12, 2105

    April 1, 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order addressing itself to the severe water shortage in his state. The answer is that California will reduce its water usage by twenty-five percent by 2016. No excuses will be accepted. "The price of food may go up because the cost of water is getting much higher. That’s one thing," the Governor said on PBS last month. "And, in general, what’s happening in California is one variant of the change in weather and climate. And so other places have to look at this and understand we are—when I say we, humankind all over the world is putting billions of tons of chemicals, CO2, methane and other things, other greenhouse gases, and that’s warming and disrupting the very delicate web of life and balance in the hydrological cycle and in the climate."
   The following uses of water in California are now against the law and subject to penalties:

  • If you water your landscape, you are permitted no runoff onto adjacent property.
  • If you wash your car, your water hose better have a shut-off valve that stops water from pouring out when it is not in use.
  • You cannot use water to wash your driveway or sidewalk.
  • You cannot water your landscape if there has been measurable rain within the last forty-eight hours.
  • If you want water served to you in a restaurant or hotel, you will need to ask for it. Providing it without your request is forbidden.
  • Irrigating ornamental landscapes with potable water is limited to no more than three days per week.
  • Customers with even-numbered addresses may irrigate on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.
  • Customers with odd-numbered addresses may irrigate on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
  • Irrigation of special landscape areas or commercial nurseries may occur as needed, provided that the customer who wishes to irrigate a special landscape area or commercial nursery presents Cal Water with a plan to achieve water use reductions commensurate with those that would be achieved by complying with foregoing restrictions.
  •  Re-filling and initial filling of single-family residential swimming pools or outdoor spas with potable water is prohibited, except to maintain required operating levels of existing pools and spas or as a result of completing structural repairs to the swimming pool or outdoor spa.
  •  Filling or re-filling ornamental lakes or ponds with potable water is prohibited, except to the extent needed to sustain aquatic life.
  Does any of this sound unfair? Or does it make sense regardless of the presence of an emergency? 
   Not all the burden is on the individual Californian, however. The State Water Resources Control Board passed rules that divide the 410 largest cities, water districts and water companies in the state into nine tiers, based on their residential per capita water use from last fall. They will have to meet the targets or face state fines of up to $10,000 a day. Communities with low per-capita use will have to reduce water use by only eight percent because they already have been conserving. Places with high per-capita use will have to cut thirty-six percent. 
    But don't big corporations have a responsibility to kind of, you know, lend a hand? 
   Evidently not.
   The Desert Sun newspaper reported that NestlĂ© was bottling water in drought-stricken areas of California and selling it for profit, all while its permit for water pipelines and wells in the San Bernardino National Forest lists 1988 as the year of expiration. NestlĂ© currently extracts water from at least a dozen natural springs in California. Nestle Waters North America has long drawn water from wells that tap into springs in Strawberry Canyon north of San Bernardino. The water flows through a pipeline across the national forest and is hauled by trucks to a plant to be bottled as Arrowhead 100 percent Mountain Spring Water.
   I don't know why people drink bottled water at all. Where do you think the bottle goes after you jam it into your plastic garbage sack? The odds are excellent that it ends up in a putrefying landfill near some poor person's rickety apartment complex. Or it might make its way to that ten thousand mile mobius strip of plastic waste that circles from the northwestern shores of the American continent to Japan and back. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, wrote a book entitled Bottled and Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water. He argues that paying more for throwaway plastic when potable water is readily on tap is the result of fear-mongering by businesses that turned bottled water into the most successful product in a century.
   Governor Brown has been doing a great job of protecting agribusinesses and the oil industry from being hit hard by the four-year drought, at least when it comes to their responsibility to stop making things even worse. As Evan Blake writes in The Ecologist:
Throughout his entire political career, dating back to the 1970s, Brown has been entirely beholden to Big Oil, while posturing as a defender of the environment. He has accepted at least $2 million in campaign contributions from oil corporations since 2006, including Chevron, Occidental Petroleum, Southern California Edison, Valero Energy, Tesoro Corp, Conoco Phillips and Aera Energy (owned jointly by Shell and ExxonMobil).
   That bit about "posturing" hurts the Governor's supporters where they live. I should know. I have long been one of those supporters. 
   When Jerry Brown was elected California Secretary of State back in 1970, he litigated and won cases against Standard Oil of California, ITT, Gulf Oil and what was then called Mobil Oil for election law violations. Elected state Governor in 1974, he created the California Office of Appropriate Technology, sponsored tax incentives for rooftop solar, and repealed the state's oil depletion allowance. He may have been fiscally conservative (giving the state a $5 billion surplus before the end of his first term), but he was clearly otherwise progressive, boosting support for the California Arts Council by 1300 percent, opposing the death penalty, and appointing the United States' first openly gay judge and first openly lesbian judge. He has vehemently opposed so-called free trade agreements. 
   So when Jerry came out making demands on homeowners and residential customers implementing what I consider rules that people ought to be adhering to anyway, I figured the plan was a good one. 
Zen fascists will control you
100% natural
You will jog for the master race
And always wear the happy face.
             --Jello Biafra, The Dead Kennedys, "California Uber Alles"

    Could I have been wrong? 
    When I was a happy-being-miserable college student, the radicals who constituted the majority of my friendship base all hated Brown because he used to hang out with Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles. That seemed unfair to me. After all, Jimmy Carter had been a fan of the Allman Brothers Band. I had been suspecting a major resurgence in pop music, something that would edge out the vile disco sludge that DJs were using to pollute our precious eustachian tubes. And even though I didn't hold much truck with Ronstadt and Henley, I preferred them over the friggin' Bee Gees, who were virtually hegemonic on the radio back then. The truth is that I was secretly harboring a fantasy of a Little Feat regime in the United States, one with Lowell George as President, keyboardist Bill Payne as Veep, drummer Richie Hayward as Secretary of State, and a special appearance by Frank Zappa as ambassador to Iran. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
   Brown's decision to not put pressure on almond growers and industry is a serious call for inaction. Granted, push the farmers and prices for fruits, vegetables and nuts will go up, which means that retailers such as Wal-Mart won't buy them, which means they will buy them from other warm regions of the planet that are very happy to pay their employees sub-human wages and funnel the profits into drug cartels. Let's face it: when you buy food from Mexico, you are financing the illicit drug trade. There's at least one drop of human blood that gets sacrificed into every eight ball of cocaine that gets chopped and snorted, so let's stop kidding ourselves that the United States is some offshore island that does not impact and get impacted by every other country on this planet. 
   What the hell do we do? 
   One thing we can do is stop the phony free trade agreements that help facilitate the importation of foreign products, including groceries. The last time I checked, California was still a part of the United States. Instead of looking for ways to make it easier for Latin American countries to sell their wares here, the United States as a whole could make the economies of those other countries the problems of those countries, import tax them into smithereens, and actually drive down the price of domestic food in the U.S. to rates we haven't seen since the late 1960s. The downside to this solution is that it would likely start up a real immigration problem. Real? Yes, real. The one we supposedly have now actually does not exist--at least not if numbers matter, which I'm fairly certain they do. The United States has more people leaving than coming in at present, in large part because the economic policies of every President since at least Bill Clinton (and probably as far back as Nixon) has made it a priority to stagnate the domestic economy so that "real growth" is only measured in ways that benefit an extremely small percentage of the population while the rest of the people--black, white, brown, red--suffer the indignities of being brainwashed into believing that affluence means you have the latest wireless device rather than anything substantial. 
   What I am trying to say here--without getting too emotional (I try, folks, I swear I try)--is that this problem with water in California is not just a problem for one state. It is not merely a problem for the west or southwest, or only for the United States. As consumptive as our country is (using twenty-five percent of the planet's resources), we only share in the responsibility and we certainly cannot dig ourselves out of this tar pit alone. 
   In a recent article published by the National Geographic, writer Dennis Dimick advises that "When surface water supplies are low, hidden water supplies beneath the surface in aquifers, or groundwater, are drilled to make up the shortfall. A large aquifer under the Central Valley is being rapidly depleted to make up for shortfalls in surface water supply. A 2011 study indicated that the Central Valley Aquifer is losing an amount of water each year equivalent to the nearly 29 million acre-feet of water found in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest surface reservoir on the Colorado River." 
   And California, United States of America, is not alone. According to UNICEF, many other countries are experiencing something similar: Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan, China, Iran, India, and Morocco are all suffering uncharacteristic droughts of considerable duration. 
   To his credit, Brown has had the decency to lay the blame for the problem on human activities while most people running for higher office these days shake their heads and reluctantly admit that things are getting worse but want further evidence that people actually have had anything to do with the problem. That kind of reasoning wouldn't play well with their base of tax-evading survivalists who think that the only good police officer is one with the blood of a minority on his hands. So when California's Governor admits that our collective decisions to over-consume have placed us in this mess, he displays more honesty and courage than most. 
   What he might consider doing is crashing the next global summit. He could bring along Steve van Zant, Bono, Elton--hell, even Jello Biafra, and point out to the leaders that if they hope to enjoy the sunny climate of any place on earth, it would behoove them to apply the brakes to pollution lest the "tipping point" for climate death will collapse on our sniveling selves like those metaphoric dominoes about which those same leaders love to editorialize. 
   Most of the time I suspend my belief in political solutions. But this drought makes pretending a luxury we cannot afford. 

     

Friday, May 22, 2015

THE COVENANT, THE SWORD, AND SOME SCARY-ASS MOFOS IN ARKANSAS

I don't want the city woman, she all too fast
Give me a slow country girl with a lot of class
So I'm going, it's just a hop a skip and a jump
Arkansas here I come, it's just a hop a skip and a jump
Now if I can't live independent, why live like a bum
It's just a hop a skip and a jump.
                    --Jimmy McCracklin, "Arkansas." 

Arkansas: Asa Hutchinson (R). Former U.S. Attorney and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Annual salary: $86,890.

  A fascinating story puts the rise of Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson into an historical context. In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan appointed the young lawyer as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas. As a result of time, place and circumstance, Hutchinson deservedly made a name for himself. The story behind that recognition involves his participation in negotiating the eventual stand down of a paramilitary organization known as The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of God, a group that may have had ties with Timothy McVeigh.
   According to an FBI report, the CSA was a polygamist organization which at that time was comprised of between ninety and one hundred twenty men, women and children. The group had been arranged in 1970, settling in a Missouri town called Elijah, near the border with Arkansas. By 1976 the cult established a 220 acre farm in Marion County, Arkansas, which came to be called Zarephath-Horeb, named after the mount where Moses moved the Hebrews during the Exodus from Egypt. It may not surprise the reader to learn that the CSA was a doomsday cult. You could soften that to Apocalyptic New Religious Movement, if that makes it more palpable. 
   According to the FBI report, the CSA members were a nontraditional religious group united by faith healing, speaking in tongues, and a belief that society would collapse due to economic turmoil and nuclear war. The CSA would be willing to share what they had built as long as the unprepared were polite about things, but they would shoot and kill looters on the spot. The nearly universal white region in which the group had settled enhanced the pre-existing paranoia. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, this area is secluded in rural terrain that makes monitoring by law enforcement agencies difficult, and is positioned on the border between two states, complicating jurisdictional responsibilities. The CSA was one of many militias that supported the American Christian Patriot Movement. Followers of this ideology support hostility against any form of government above the county level, vilify Jews and non-whites as children of Satan, obsess about achieving religious and racial purification of the United States, believe in a conspiracy theory that regards Jewish leaders as controlling important financial and media positions within the America, and advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government.
  The CSA was enthusiastic about military preparations, going so far as offering survivalist training to the public, providing exercises in firearms, marksmanship, food foraging, urban warfare, Christian martial arts, nuclear survival and, that old favorite of lunatics everywhere, tax protesting.
   The founder of the group was Jim Ellison, a white supremacist fundamentalist minister from San Antonio. He liked to think of himself as the King of The Ozarks. 
   By 1984, the size of the CSA had dropped to between sixty and seventy active members. This decline did not mean the cult had become less dangerous. The aforementioned FBI report states that on June 30, 1984, a CSA member name Richard Snell shot and killed an African-American police officer named Louis Bryant. Snell was executed by lethal injection on April 19, 1995, twelve hours after Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb destroying the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh may have selected April 19 as the day of his attack because of Snell’s execution and the anniversary date of the 1993 federal raid at the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas—an event that has become a central theme in anti-government rhetoric. According to writer Lou Michel, in the book American Terrorist, Snell bragged to jailers that on the day of his execution by lethal injection, something very big was going to happen. 
   One interesting section of the FBI report states that members of what the report called a terrorist organization known as The Order and the Aryan Nation both had ties to the CSA. The Order has been linked to the murder of Denver talk radio host Alan Berg, as well as to the robbery of two Brinks armored cars that netted the group four million dollars. 
  On April 20, 1985, acting on the basis of a search warrant, the FBI, ATF, and the Arkansas and Missouri State Police surrounded the CSA compound and began negotiating the execution of the warrant with Jim Ellison. Both the Feds and the CSA had been well prepared for ugliness. More than three hundred agents were orchestrated in the area, some disguised as fishermen. The CSA had its own armed guards patrolling the compound. After a few hours, everyone on both sides realized something was up and the FBI opened negotiations in an attempt to convince Ellison that if things came down to a gunfight, the Government would surely win. 
   Enter a young U.S. Attorney named Asa Hutchinson. He took his safety into his own hands and stepped in to lead in the peaceful surrender of Ellison and the others. 
   His cool-headedness (as well as the professionalism of the federal agents) turns out to have been quite remarkable when we discover the list of items recovered during the raid. In addition to several stolen vehicles and gold Krugerrands, the agents uncovered an anti-tank weapon rocket, two PCs, CB radios, documents connecting the CSA to the Aryan Nation, knives with nine inch blades, ninety-four long guns, thirty handguns, forty improvised hand grenades, three hundred twenty blasting caps, four thousand feet of detonating cord, fifty sticks of dynamite, thirty-eight kinetic explosives, three blocks of C4, safety fuse, military flares, smoke grenades, and several hundred thousand rounds of ammunition. Deep in the report prepared by the FBI is the information that the "CSA has been implicated in such crimes as the firebombing of a church that caters to homosexuals, the arson of a residence for profit, the bombing of a Jewish community center and a gas pipeline, the robbery of a pawn shop and the murder of its owner, theft of vehicles and numerous weapons violations." 
   Arrested along with Ellison were Kerry Noble, Gary Stone, Timothy Russell, Rudy Loewen and David Giles. Subsequently, the FBI picked up several affiliate members in other towns, notably Order members Randall Evans and Thomas Bentley, along with James Wallington and Jefferson Butler. Not immediately arrested was an Order/CSA member named Richard Joseph Scutari, a ravenous scumbag if one such ever slithered across this earth. Scutari was finally captured in March 1986, suspected in the assassination of Alan Berg and ultimately convicted of the aforementioned Brinks robberies. Although acquitted of Berg's murder (David Lane and Bruce Pierce were convicted and given 150 year sentences), Scutari was sentenced to sixty-five years for racketeering and sedition. 
   As for Ellison, four days after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was released from prison and moved to Elohim City, Oklahoma
   If anything good can be said to have come from all this Christian Identity nonsense, it is that Kerry Noble has seen the real light and has written and spoken about the dangers of the radical right in this country. 
   Hutchinson (who it is my pleasure to finally return to after all these years) went on to head the DEA, changing the emphasis to routing out trafficking in meth, date rape drugs and ecstasy. 
   The worst thing one can say about the man is that following the Sandy Hook massacre, he agreed to participate in a task force created by the NRA, a load of rubbish called the National School Shield Initiative, something the NRA claimed was designed to make school children safer. The task force recommended that school officials be empowered through state and local laws to arm and train non-police personnel if they deem it necessary.
   On the upside, Hutchinson refused to sign his state's repressive religious freedom bill until the state legislature amended it to prevent businesses from discriminating against gay people. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

ARIZONA IN THE AIR TONIGHT

You can believe in Robin Hood and brotherhood
and rolling the ball in the hay
And I will be reading you an Aesop's fable
Anything to make you stay.
Arizona, cut off your Indian braids.         
      --Kenny Young, performed by Mark Lindsay

    On this, the third night in our collective exploration of that eternal interrogatory, to wit: why did the makers of "Wayward Pines" kill off the Juliette Lewis character so damn early in the series*,  we meet with a bit of sidetracking while wading waist deep in the big Saguaro. What must instead be addressed is the real question inquiring minds insist on resolving: Why would anyone even come close to wanting to be governor of the state of Arizona, given the likelihood that holding such a position will open one up to ridicule, bald-faced hostility, probable impeachment and certain jail time? 
   Good question, that. 
   Between 1975 and 2014, Arizona had only one governor who originally came into office as a result of a normal election process. That governor, of course, was Evan Mecham, the only sitting governor of the state to be impeached while facing both a recall election and a criminal indictment. 
   But we can't live in the past, now can we? (According to the aforementioned TV show, we cannot even talk about it--they also caution that we must always answer the phone when it rings, which is excellent advice.) It's a new day and Arizona has a new governor, about whom it is my extremely humble pleasure to discuss.

Arizona: Doug Ducey (R). Worked in marketing for Procter & Gamble; partner and CEO of Cold Stone Creamery; chairman of iMemories. Annual salary: $95,000.

   Let us look at the money: The Republican Governors Association and other outside groups supporting Ducey spent $3.4 million through mid-October 2014 on TV ads to portray opponent Fred DuVal as a stooge of lobbyists and special interests in Arizona. Both candidates were recipients of significant campaign contributions from lobbyists, those little rascals contributing $185,000 to Ducey and $250,000 to DuVal. 
    According to the Arizona Republic newspaper, the Governor's "transition" efforts were the recipients of considerable financial contributions from a public utility and a large media conglomerate, among others. 
    A group calling itself American Bridge did a very official-looking report on Ducey during the 2014 governor's campaign. Although the report is more than two hundred pages in length, most of its emphasis lies in three areas: Ducey evidently forgot to pay his property taxes for two years; he and his wife received some traffic tickets that they were in no hurry to pay; and not all of the franchisees at Cold Stone loved the future governor.
Doug Ducey worked at Cold Stone from 1995 to 2007, and was named CEO in 2000. Under his leadership, Cold Stone had a history of poor relationships with its franchises and its franchisees defaulted on many of their Small Business Administration loans. Cold Stone consistently filed its paperwork late. In 2006, one of its entities was forcibly dissolved by the Arizona Corporate Commission, after multiple warnings to file its paperwork on time. Cold Stone also experienced an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning and was repeatedly fined for child labor law infractions. Ducey arranged the sale of the company in 2007, but its sale price fell by one-sixth due to a combination of a rapid expansion and increasingly poor sales.

    I once had the pleasure of working for a man who owned a taxi company. One day I asked him why most of his drivers were a bunch of scumbags. He said, "What kind of people you think are going to do this job?"
   It is tempting to view the office of Arizona Governor in that same light. 
  In 1986, then-Governor Evan Mecham told a group of African-American activists that they did not need the Martin Luther King holiday. What they needed, he said, was jobs. Indeed, Mecham was quite the idiot savant. He referred to black children as pickaninnies, told the members of a Jewish audience that America was a Christian nation, claimed that a group of Japanese visitors had their eyes grow round when he described local golf courses, and said he had employed black people because they were the best people for the "cotton-picking job."
   During his second term as governor, Fyfe Symington was convicted of seven counts of banking fraud. His conviction was overturned because of problems with the jury and before he could be retried, his friend Bill Clinton pardoned him. 
  Compared to those two ne'erdowells, Ducey looks almost decent.
  Perhaps we should look at his positions and behaviors.
   Ducey claims he wants Arizona to have a balanced budget. To accomplish this, he has cut $78 million from state universities. (Arizona only has three: Arizona State, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University.) He wants to cut five percent of non-classroom spending for primary and secondary schools. He suspended investigations into state ride-sharing companies. 
   His social politics have taken a somewhat different course. He overturned a bill that would have denied adoption rights to the LGBT community. Ducey also shot down a bill that would have protected the identity of police officers accused of crimes. On the other hand, he has implemented the most severe welfare restrictions in the country, freezing benefits for sixteen hundred recipients to twelve months while seeking to cut taxes.
   One gets the sense that Ducey is a right-leaning libertarian, somewhat in the mold of Rand Paul. What this means for the future is difficult to access. He has been in office a little more than one hundred days. 
   But what does the man really think?
   He has been a member of two clubs--The Whisper Rock Golf Club and the Phoenix Thunderbirds--which have never had female members. Following the Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby and against female contraception, Ducey tweeted his support for the Court's ruling, which is at least consistent, since he supports fetal personhood. 
   In fact, prior to his election, he put out a "pledge" to the people of the state, in which he made it clear that he is pro-gun, anti-abortion, anti-Affordable Care Act, pro-tax cuts for the wealthy, pro-taxes period for the poor, and very much a fan of securing the imaginary border between Arizona and Mexico. 
   Watching Ducey during the next several months may give some visual reality to what it would be like to have a libertarian in an executive position a bit higher up the ladder than governor. It might even prove to be a creepier experience than living in Wayward Pines. 
"People just don't know how funny I can be."

*Answer, courtesy of Joe Bob Briggs: the key is knowing that anybody can die at any time.