Thursday, April 17, 2014


   Before getting into the specifics, it is only fair to suggest that those of you who are presently clad in pseudo-para-military apparel disrobe, roll your strange clothing into a thin plastic tube, place the tube into the backseat of a 1957 Buick four-door, and drive the automobile in question up your own asses.
   The subject, as you may have guessed, is idiot right wing violence and terrorism. For many people, the stench of crypto-fascist actions began in Ruby Ridge with the shooting deaths of Vicki and Sammy Weaver and U.S. Marshal Bill Degan. Others place the impetus as the machine gun murder of Denver disc jockey Alan Berg by members of a neo-Nazi group called The Order. While I suppose the originating reference point may remain a matter of opinion, I would place the rise of contemporary right wing violence as far back as 1955, in a relatively uninterrupted flow of blood and gore. Some periods of lessening have occurred and those will be noted.
    As the first African American to register to vote in modern Mississippi history, the Reverend George W. Lee did not know much in the way of fear. He co-founded the Belzoni, Mississippi chapter of the NAACP and stood up to the notorious White Citizens Council by taking them to court when they attempted to purge registered blacks from voter roles. The Reverend was a gifted speaker and in April 1955, he drew a crowd of seven thousand to the all-black town of Mount Bayou where he railed against the actions of the White Citizens Council.
   A month later, on May 7, 1955, a convertible pulled up alongside Reverend Lee's car and someone in that convertible fired three shots, at least one of which killed George Lee. Although charges have never been brought against the murderer(s), the case did serve to politicize a young local activist named Medgar Evers, later a field secretary for the NAACP. Evers himself would be murdered in June 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens Council.
    In August of that same year, at the age of sixty-three, a farmer and war veteran named Lamar Smith was registering African Americans in Brookhaven, Mississippi so they could vote with absentee ballots and thereby avoid the brutality of showing up in person at the polls when, in front of dozens of white Mississippi witnesses and in broad daylight, Mr. Smith was gunned down in front of the local court house. None of the witnesses agreed to testify or identify the suspected shooter or shooters. Ultimately, three men were arrested for the murder, but the grand jury refused to return an indictment.
   Just two weeks later, also in Mississippi, this time in a town called Money, a fourteen-year-old boy named Emmett Till, in town on vacation from Chicago, made the apparent mistake of speaking to a white woman, in this case, twenty-one-year-old Carolyn Bryant. Carolyn's husband Roy had something of a temper, so he enlisted his half-brother J. W. Milam to help him even the score. Three nights later they found Till sleeping at an uncle's. They dragged him from his bed, took him into a barn, gouged out one of his eyes, beat him to death and then shot him through the head, after which they dumped his body into a bag, weighed the bag down with farm equipment and barbed wire which they strung around his neck, and threw him into the Tallahatchie River. His two killers were naturally acquitted of the crime, yet within only two months they were boasting of their deeds in Look magazine. 
  Another black teenager to be murdered in the south by racists was sixteen-year-old John Earl Reese. Reese and two cousins, Joyce and Johnnie Nelson, were dancing in the Hughes Cafe in Mayflower, Texas, when two men, outraged over the idea of white and black children attending the same schools together, decided to make a political statement. Joe Simpson and Perry Ross drove by the cafe while Ross aimed a gun out the window of their car and fired nine rounds into the cafe. Both cousins were wounded. John Reese was killed. Although both men confessed their guilt at trial, Simpson's indictment was dismissed, while Ross received a five year suspended sentence.
   In April 1957, the body of an African-American man, later identified as Willie Edwards Jr., washed up on the shores of the Alabama River, not far from Montgomery. He had been murdered three months earlier by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. On the night of January 23, 1957, the Klansmen mistook Edwards for a black man they believed had been sleeping with a white woman. The men beat Willie Edwards before taking him to a bridge over the Alabama River. Holding a gun on the man, they ordered him to jump. He fell 125 feet to his death. Twenty-three years later, the Alabama State Attorney General brought charges against the four men, but a judge promptly dismissed the charges. The case was reopened once again in 1997, but the Montgomery County grand jury declined to indict anyone for the crime. 
   Herbert Lee was killed in September 1961 by a Mississippi State Legislator named E. M. Hurst. Mr Lee had been a member of the NAACP and had been helping members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) to register voters in Mississippi. Outside a cotton gin in the ironically named town of Liberty, Representative Hurst shot Lee to death in from of a dozen witnesses. Even though Lee was described as a small man and Hurst stood six-three and weighed 300 pounds, the coroner accepted the story that Hurst had acted in self-defense. One of the witnesses, Louis Allen, admitted to the FBI that he had lied to the coroner and that Hurst had indeed shot Lee without provocation. For his honesty, Mr. Allen was shot three times while standing on his own front lawn.
    In the early 1960s, many young people from all over the United States came together to test the enforcement of two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court mandating that segregation of interstate buses was unconstitutional. These young people knew that they were putting their safety and even their lives at risk at the hands of angry segregationists. And indeed, mob violence was not only common, in many cases it was met with the active support of people such as Bull Connor, the Birmingham, Alabama police commissioner and friend of the KKK. Horrible attacks by white citizens groups occurred in Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery, and of course in Mississippi. In the Mississippi town of Taylorsville, on April 9, 1962, Police Officer William Kelly murdered Military Police Officer Corporal Roman Ducksworth when the latter gentleman refused to move to the back of the bus on which he was traveling. Local wisdom at the time held that the cop mistook Ducksworth for a Freedom Rider. The murder was ruled a justifiable homicide.
   As we learn in our history books, a brave young man named James Meredith was the first black student admitted to the then-segregated University of Mississippi. Part of Merediths motivation was to get an education. Part of it, he admitted, was to pressure the Kennedy Administration to enforce desegregation laws. While covering the riots against Meredith's admission, a French journalist named Paul Guihard was shot in the back at point blank range. Guihard, in his final dispatch, wrote that in Mississippi, the Civil War had never ended. He was perhaps more prescient than he himself realized. As recently as 2014, some idiot frat boys at ole Miss tied a rope around the statue of James Meredith and draped over the statue a Georgia state flag. 
   In April 1963, a postman and member of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) launched a one-man protest march from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. The postman, William Lewis Moore, intended to hand deliver to the governor a letter he had written encouraging the governor to accept racial integration. Postman Moore did not live to deliver his missive. Near Attila, Alabama, Moore was found dead of two head shots from a gun that belonged to a man named Floyd Simpson. Moore had been in a verbal argument with Simpson earlier that same day. Despite this, charges have never been brought against anyone for this murder. 
   In June of that same year, Medgar Evers was gunned down by Byron De La Beckwith. Beckwith was not convicted of his crime until February 5, 1994.
   Then, of course, there were the four little girls. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were killed when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The church itself was famous locally as a meeting place for civil rights workers such as Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy. It was also a frequent meeting place for members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and CORE. Twenty-six children were walking into the church basement on the morning of September 15, 1963, when the dynamite bomb exploded. Twenty-two of the children were injured. The other four died. It was fourteen years later before anyone was ever convicted of this horrible crime. Robert Chambliss was convicted in November 1977. Twenty-three years after that, in May 2000, the FBI finally announced that three other men had been involved in the killings. One of those men was already dead, but the other two, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, were soon tried and convicted. 
    God knows the right wing violence did not stop with the death of those four little girls. In our next report, we will delve further into the history of extremist violence in America.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


 Moderator: That brings us to our greatest challenge in more than a decade, to wit, devising the proper comparison between the search for missing Malaysian airliner and something that has absolutely nothing to do with that very thing.

Avery: Point of order.

Moderator: The Moderator recognizes Madame Avery of the Oceanic Metaphoric Society.

Avery: Thank you. 

Moderator: We now turn to--

Avery: Actually, I was going to say something.

Moderator: Of course.

Avery: The current milieu reminds one not so much of trying to locate a needle in the proverbial haystack as rather attempting to locate a solitary blade of grass at Forest Lawn.

Bovary: I say!

Moderator: Madame Bovary?

Bovary: Our contingent prefers to think of this arduous search as sharing a likeness with looking for a Boeing 777 at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Moderator: Duly noted, with the exception that one cannot create a simile of the original issue.

Bovary: No longer?

Moderator: Not since the passage of time, no.

Culinary: Moderator? I must speak up. The search is vastly more akin to peaking through the door latch on the first floor and trying to find your grandmothers dentures inside a locked crate in the attack of a neighbor's house. 

Avery: You pusillanimous pup. Sir, it is more like gazing into the night sky through the eye of a needle from the surface of Pluto and hoping to observe Christopher Columbus landing at Honduras.

Bovary: Lloyds of London! One may as well listen for a B-Flat in all the works of Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms being played simultaneously on a kazoo.

Culinary: Only if you refuse to recognize the superiority of conceptualizing the propriety of singling out one uncapitalized arabic letter amid all the letters in all the words in all the sentences in all the books ever written.

Moderator: But as to the people aboard?

Avery: Have we finished trivializing their plight?

Moderator: I don't know. I suspect we were hoping to divert attention from their unhappy fate by highlighting our own superior elucidations. 

Bovary: Really! Sentiment in a time of crisis? That sounds very much like a fool's errand.

Culinary: More akin to a moron's task.

Avery: I was thinking an imbecile's vocation.

Moderator: Stop it.

Avery: This is our job, after all.

Moderator: A stupid job.

Bovary: Like trying to affix meaning to an illusion.

Avery: Polident to dentures.

Culinary: A carburetor to a row boat.

Moderator: Shut up! Oh, hell. I might as well ask a donkey not to bray.

Avery: Hackneyed.  

Bovary: It would be strange if this meeting itself were an allegory.

Culinary: No chance of that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


   Last October I decided to take an uncharacteristically conscientious approach to my health. I visited my local pharmacy to roll up my sleeves and accepted a preventive shot for both influenza and pneumonia. The idea of doing this was to teach those nasty things a lesson. I would get myself immunized and the dreaded sickness legions would either die or seek refuge within the head and lungs of some other poor fool.
   The good news is that I contracted neither the flu nor pneumonia. The bad news is that I have had something that resembles a vicious allergy for about six months now and the time has come for it to vamoose. Sneezing and coughing are only the tip of it. The facial pain associated with whatever this was prompted me to visit the same pharmacy's handy dandy sixty-second cure or whatever it's called. The "physician's assistant" who examined me remarked that I had somehow developed a vile and treacherous infection that must be dealt with in the harshest and most severe of ways. As it happens, harsh and severe meant antibiotics, some nasal spray and a variety of steroids. Two hundred dollars later, I returned home and loaded up. Antibiotics tend to grow large in these parts. Getting them down the ole gullet wasn't much fun. Still, I took them all, along with the steroids and the spray. Sure enough, the pain in my face left for a  more hospitable locale. The coughing and sneezing, however, have been tag-teaming me like something from the WWE ever since. I awaken twice each night, cough more of my precious brain cells down the sink, blow my nose with all the enthusiasm of an amphetamine-taking tuba player, ingest yet more Benadryl and fall back asleep. During the day I am so horribly medicated that were I called upon to perform a math equation that involved any type of division, I should certainly find that my skull had imploded. 
   Now the theory is that the cause of my discomfort is actually allergies. The idea makes a certain sense. When I was but a wee frock of a lad, I used to take allergy shots once every two weeks. By the time I left home, my need for such hypodermics had passed. I assumed I had grown out of my allergies. 
   Perhaps not.
   And I may not be alone.
   Roughly half of the people with whom I am in routine contact have mentioned that they have been suffering too. Sneezing and coughing, coughing and sneezing, all day and all of the night. 
   Marlene Cimons, a writer for Climate Nexus, believes she has the answer. In an article appearing in The Huffington Post on March 31, 2013--that's last year--she wrote: "The planet is getting warmer, and human behavior is responsible. The changing climate has brought early spring, late-ending fall, and large amounts of rain and snow. All of that, combined with historically high levels of carbon dioxide in the air, nourishes the trees and plants that make pollen, and encourages more fungal growth, such as mold, and the release of spores."
   That more or less frosts my bowl of flakes. It's one thing to understand that in my life-time, my home state of Ohio will become the next Palm Springs. It is quite another thing indeed to mull over the likelihood that we have brought the mess of our current respiratory maladies onto ourselves. But the evidence is not only persuasive; it is conclusive. Over the last thirty years, we have been experiencing hotter summers, more severe winters, and abbreviated springs and autumns. The unusual excess precipitation in the winter makes for better growing during the spring. April showers bring May flowers? They certainly bring a heavy load of pollen and other common allergens.
   The worst cities in the United States for allergies this year, according to The Weather Channel, are:
1. Louisville, Kentucky.
2. Memphis, Tennessee
3. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
5. Jackson, Mississippi
6. Chattanooga, Tennessee
7. Dallas, Texas
8. Richmond, Virginia
9. Birmingham, Alabama
10. McAllen, Texas 
   The Weather Channel, incidentally, received their information from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

   I'm not altogether certain what we can conclude from this list. Six of the cities are what I would call either midwestern or eastern and three of the cities are in Texas. I grew up in the midwest. I wouldn't live in Texas (except for Austin) even if they gave me the entire state.
   What to do? I suppose it might be a good idea to steer clear of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants and gasoline-powered cars, cattle farts (on the increase due to the demand for meat), deforestation, and chemical fertilizers. What these aspects of modern civilization have brought us includes worldwide rise in sea levels, more killer storms (Sandy and Katrina come to mind), massive crops failures, extinction of many species of life, and the disappearance of the coral reefs. That's not the opinion of some commie-symp agitator. That's freaking NASA talking. Somehow I doubt they're blowing that particular whistle just because their duties have been scaled back. 
   It may turn out that what I have is not allergies at all. I may have some form of cancer or tuberculous or even foot in mouth disease. If you have the time, I'd appreciate hearing from any of you who have noticed a prolonged cough and sneeze problem any time over the last six months or so. Just leave a comment below, please. Til next time--hack spit rackle choo! Sorry. I was going to say take care.


Monday, April 7, 2014


   Being a rather lazy species, we humans crave universal rules for everything, mainly because it saves us the labor of thinking for ourselves. And while it may be true that at this point in humanity's devolution, there is no longer such a thing as a new idea, that should not keep us from digging up some good old ones and passing them off as our own. 
   One of the King Daddy-o's of pre-existentialist thought--hang on, now, don't give up on this already!--was a cool swinging cat name of Immanuel Kant. Dude had a lot to make up for, what with his name making him sound like a bit of a sissy, so he developed something called a Categorical Imperative. He applied this Universal Truth serum to morality and he ended up with three very simple rules.

1. Behave only in ways that would make you happy if everyone else was doing the same thing, including doing it to you. ( "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.")
2. Treat other human beings as both means and ends, never exclusively as one or the other. ("Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.")
3. The idea that something is moral or right means that any corollaries derived from the above two rules result in harmony. ("All maxims as proceeding from our own [hypothetical] making of law ought to harmonise with a possible kingdom of ends.")

   Number three is quite the bitch, I'll grant you. 

   In any event, talk has been circulating of late about whether we can ever know right from wrong. Gray is a popular moral color at the moment. However, I'm here to at least try to sort through the muck and separate wheat from chaff. Don't worry. This comes free of charge.

1. Government should only exist to protect human beings from one another. Note that the above sentence is more complex than it may at first appear.
2. Since most governments will not follow rule number one, authority has no bearing whatsoever on morality.
3.  Many people fail to appreciate the things that are of true value in life.

   Please do not conclude from all this that I am any sort of libertarian. I want a big government breathing down the necks of industry so far that the CEOs can't find their own feet. I also want a government that is benevolent toward the powerless, one that clothes the naked, heels the sick, and houses the homeless. In other words, I crave a government that actually is people--people operating in a decentralized manner in a spirit of balancing needs and resources. If I had to pick between equality and liberty, I would select the former, even though I've never found the two to be mutually exclusive.

4. Pay people what they are worth. Your interest in profit does not trump their interest in survival.
5. Keep your savior out of your neighbor's uterus.
6. The best way to get your point across is to set a good example. Preaching (which is probably what I am doing here) is mostly anemic without visible actions to back it up.
7. The best things in life may not be free, but they come cheap. Time with friends, the sound of children giggling, the sigh of a poet after reading something he/she has written, the purr of kittens, the upturned belly of a dog, rain on a tin roof, the smell of marsh mellows--I could go on. These and millions of other things, if we only allow them to sink in, can provide lifetimes of joy, rather than merely distract us from the monotony of the rest of our lives. 

   We're only here once--as far as we really know. Wouldn't it be nice to look back during those last ten minutes of life and remember how you felt the first time your most important person smiled at you, or the time you first tasted lemonade, or the first time you heard someone's child laugh? I'll take those things over a balance sheet any time. 
    At one brief point in my own life, I had a tremendous amount of money. If there can be such a thing as too much money, that is precisely how much I had. It was far and away the most excessively superficial period of my life. Nothing of any value whatsoever happened during those very ugly nine months. My stupid experience does not mean we can generalize my case to the rest of the world. On the other hand, what good are experiences if we do not learn life lessons from them? 
   What I need--and possibly what you need--are the things that meant a lot to you when you didn't know what they were. When your basic needs were supplied by others, you probably didn't put much thought to them. As you became an adult, you probably began to fend for yourself and basic survival may have become a real struggle sometimes. The shelter, the food, the clothes and the warmth of your childhood took on an entirely different degree of emphasis. Then after a while, you found someone you thought would share your burdens as well as your celebrations. If you were with the right person, you were happy more often than frustrated. But for those of us of a certain age--an age which differs from one person to another--we may begin to reevaluate the importance of the things that feel right or appropriate. We may even start to recognize that some of the things we claim we need are in reality confounding us by reinforcing the needs they frustrate. A certain alienation sets in and to cope with it, we might make the mistake of consuming things that in turn further our alienation. Drugs will do that, but so will addictions to television, luxury items, or even sex. 
   As I sort of imply things here about myself, I fear this article may be sounding too precious. I hope not, because the point is too important to lose in the fumes of my own ego, even if I express it in an awkward way. That said, let's return to Kant for a moment. When the poor guy was all of seventy-three years old, some wisenheimer challenged him by saying, in effect, "Since you are arguing that people should always tell the truth, what would you do if a man bent on murder asked you the location of his intended victim?"
   Kant, trying to be consistent, replied that the proper thing to do would be to tell the truth, whereupon most of his friends changed the locks on their front doors. Personally, my answer to the question would have been to supply the address of the nearest police station. But I still have a sense of humor, while Kant, despite serving up a mighty fine fondue, never really was the life of the party.
   Truth is overrated anyway. We live in a time that virtually suffocates amid the smoggy profusion of truth. I am not advocating ignorance and I'm not praising self-delusion. What I am calling out is that the stark nature of truth--especially capital T Truth--is often so far removed from its presumed synonym Beauty as to lead anyone who beheld such a thing to run screaming from any room that displayed it. What is in very short supply is actually something called Understanding. I intend that word in the sense of both comprehension and empathy. One may have the information that clues in on every synapse of the human brain, for instance, but without exerting the effort to understand the very real thoughts and feelings that come spilling from those processes, the truth of the matter is very much wasted. In other words, I'll take a supposedly uneducated person who cares about how I feel over a truckload who claim to know why
   Some of the awkwardness in my delivery of all this stems from the fact that I am still reeling from a fantasy I had earlier tonight. I imagined that my greatest friends from all the years of my life were together at the same large table, drinking coffee and talking to one another. Maybe some nice music is playing in the background. I don't even necessarily need to be sitting at that imaginary table. Somehow just knowing they were all together talking about their lives and listening to one another--well, at this moment, that may very much be one of those things that is of incalculable value in life. I'll take that over money any day.
Universal Understanding

Sunday, April 6, 2014


   It may sound like a variation on an old Kinky Friedman song, but the first time I discovered the works of Chick Publications, it was while I was tending to business in a public boys room. The tract was lying on the floor, so I picked it up, read it, learned I was on the highway to hell, burning up the road, I had the devil in my cigarette lighter and didn't need no battery, I had the devil in my heart, but only because I was too young to drive.
   The Jack Thomas Chick empire, it must be admitted, does not vacillate. They make their opinions known and there has been no deviation, probably because they believe such a policy to be perverse. For more than fifty years, Chick has been trying to scare the hell of out of little kids while deliberately alienating and outright insulting Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Freemasons, Ecumenicalists, gays, evolutionists, and people who would translate the King James version of the Bible. 
   I have not given Chick Publications much recent consideration. But this morning, outside a grocery, as I disgorged my weary self from the vehicle, I was greeted by a not unattractive teenage girl who said something to me very quickly that I could not understand and then begged me to accept a small comic book entitled Things to Come? 
   As with all Chick booklets, this one tells a story. In this case, an apparent fortune teller--perhaps a Gypsy, but certainly a misguided soul--is being pressured by a son or daughter--these days it's so hard to tell the difference--into getting to the truth. Okay, says the mama. I'll go see Mr. Rogers. He knows the story.
   The mama tells Rogers that she is a good Roman Catholic. Rogers responds that Jesus hates the Vatican and refers to the city as "The great whore." To my surprise, the Pope himself is in actuality The Beast, as in the antiChrist, that nasty world leader who will attempt to destroy Israel once the rapture has occurred. The rapture? Yeah, otherwise known as the great space alien capture, which rhymes with rapture, wherein those living and deceased souls who were (needless to say) none of the above heretics but rather were those who had been saved and therefore ascended to heaven where the very hateful Jesus is waiting with your very own monogrammed harp and wing-set--that rapture, buddy. 
   That is a fair assessment of the Chick books themes. 
   The titles of these tracts tell much of the story: Allah Had No Son, Are Roman Catholics Christians?, Bewitched, Gomez is Coming (said title revealing more about Gomez than I personally care to know), Love the Jewish People, and The Poor Revolutionist leap unbidden to mind. 
    As Chick himself would be happy to tell you, I'm no saint myself. I have been known to pass extraordinarily insensitive and frequently uninformed remarks about Mormons, Halloween, and other distractions. When I am annoyed with something, I am not above taking the cheapest of shots. In my own defense, however, I should add that I do not recall having ever argued that anyone who disagrees with me is going to hell forever. 
   The only other area in which Chick and I match up is in appreciation of the King James Version of the Bible. Commissioned by King James I, the Hampton Court translated the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek, and highly reflected the Puritan-influenced views of the Church of England. The result was the King James Version. Granted, that version occasionally placed emphasis in the wrong places (such as Christ's reference to a rich man having as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel does passing through the eye of a needle, the emphasis giving the reader the opinion that rich people won't make it in, whereas the real story was that the eye of the needle was a gate of Jerusalem through which a camel and his passenger could only enter once they had removed their treasures, leaving the parable to mean not that the rich can't get it but that they cannot take wealth with them), but it remains a magnificent series of stories which not only offer frequently good advice but which also sparkle with the language of Shakespeare, who did not write it, regardless of what it says in Psalm 46. I've always resisted attempts to contemporize the Jimmy Version on literary grounds. I enjoy the ambiguities, the plot twists, the deus ex machina. Did the story not begin "In the beginning," it would rival the finest Greek tragedies, most of which stuck to the theory of en medias res (beginning in the middle). 
    In any case, the comics themselves do a vast disservice to the world at large, primarily because they run so contrary to the general benevolence of most comic books of my generation. Superman, whose story was very much a Christ allegory, didn't beat up homosexuals, although he did occasionally race bait by referring to Asian Nazis as Japs. Wonder Woman was the first female feminist to be celebrated in comic books. And many of the Marvel group heroes (and some from DC) were genuine freaks, whether it was the mutant Hulk, X-Men, or The Fantastic Four. I'm not saying The Silver Surfer grew up in Gomorrah, but he sure was different, huh? Kids reading those marvelous comics felt different, too. It was nice imagining that when The Flash was a kid, that maybe other kids had picked on him, or that the Green Arrow's parents were judgmental. Those comics were inherently progressive (I remember an issue of The Brave & the Bold wherein Batman mused about the need for prison reform). To find a reactionary psychopath like Chick using that holy medium for the purposes of exclusion rather than inclusion is, to use the tract jargon, an abomination. 
   So I shoved the tract into my back pocket and did my shopping. When I returned home, I pulled the booklet out and there was the tale of the misguided Gypsy. Mr. Rogers tells her that after the aforementioned rapture, a new Pope will emerge in the Vatican, proclaiming himself the New Jesus. The leftover humans will worship him in his glory. The joke is on them, however, because this dude is The Beast, the guy who digs on 666, even though word of that number has been widely disseminated and you'd think people would realize that the admonition to bear that code would be a warning. The whole plot turns out to be a pre-ordained conspiracy for the struggle to possess our souls. If we refuse to wear the mark, we are beheaded. If we do wear it, Jesus sends us to hell. 
    Chick is ninety this year. His days, like future foreheads, are numbered. Yet his kingdom endures. 
   You have been warned (insert snicker). 

Thursday, April 3, 2014



   Most famous artists have an audience, or people who appreciate their work, admirers who gaze in wonder or who obsess over the technique or style of brushstrokes. Maurits Cornelis Escher, or M C Escher, has fans. Were he alive today, the name he used would lead people to assume he was some sort of rock star. But Escher did not deal in sound because sound, like the other senses, is littered with possibilities. M C Escher dealt in the impossible. The mobius strip, a snake eating its own tale, a tower the pinnacle of which everyone can see but no one can ever reach, waterfalls that pour up, perpetual motion--these are not merely mathematical improbabilities. These are ideas often borne in childhood imaginations. They are borne from What if, as in What if a strip of paper only had one side? What if everything in our universe was experienced literally? What if the space between the wings of birds contained an obverse reality? In Escher's recreation of the world, these things are not only possible, they are the norm. 
    What follows are some of the more popular of the more than 2,000 pieces Escher brought forth from an imagination as young as it was wise.


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Sunday, March 30, 2014


   1976 was the year Graham Parker happened. And God did we need him. 
   On one side of the scope, the Bicentennial year was the last year the pop charts had such mad diversity mix of future dinosaur groups (Jefferson Starship, Steve Miller, Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith, Who, Queen), country-ish (Glen Campbell, Orleans, C.W. McCall), disco (Bee Gees, John Travolta, Silver, KC and the Sunshine Band, Vicki Sue Robinson, Starbuck, Maxine Nightgale, Silver Convention, Walter Murphy and Johnnie Taylor), novelty (Wild Cherry, Bay City Rollers, Rick Dees, Larry Groce), muck by Elton, Wings, Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, Donnie and Marie, Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates, ELO, George Benson, The Captain & Tennille, Paul Anka, Cliff Richard, Chicago, the Bellamy Brothers, Lou Rawls, and Seals & Crofts), along with some genuinely great tunes from Parliament, David Ruffin, Thin Lizzy, Sweet, War, the Staple Singers, The O'Jays, Rufus, Paul Simon, David Bowie and even the Four Seasons. Clearly, the ratio of shit to shinola was ten to one and even the shinola wasn't all that memorable. 
   Which is why we needed Graham Parker.
   Did you really want to chant along with the Bay City Rollers as they brayed about S-A*T-U-R*D-A-Y*NIGHT? 
   Did you really think the song "Junk Food Junkie" was funny after the first time you heard it?
   Did you really prefer the lukewarm molten sludge whomp of Foghat to its nearest identifiable influence, Chuck Berry?
   Did you really want to wake up in the morning in that year to discover that a song by The Beatles (who had dissolved six years earlier), "Got to Get You Into My Life," had made the Top Forty because of the dearth of existing talent?
   Did you really want to listen to Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show remake Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen"?
   Of course not! You were not an idiot, even if the A&R men & women and their employees at the radio stations and the Gestapo goon rack jobbers all thought you were! No matter how much money and sweat goes into trying to turn your brain into a turnip and your soul into a cow's heart, real passion and talent wins out in the spirit of the winds of future past, so here sits we all today thinking back upon those far-from-halcyon days of both folk and yore trying to recollect what if anything even remotely non-putrid and anti-fecal remains? Anything at all?
    Well, of course. Rod Stewart released what would be his last good album, Tonight's the Night. Jackson Browne's The Pretender changed a lot of people's ideas of what constituted excellent singer-songwriter material. The Sex Pistols destroyed everything that had come before them with their single "Anarchy in the UK." The Band played their "final" concert on Thanksgiving Day. Bob Seger's mainstream breakthrough album Night Moves at llloooonnnnngggggg last gave the man the credibility he had deserved and been denied. And The Ramones released The Ramones, a fact which changed everything. 
    Graham Parker and the Rumour didn't merely absorb their influences. They recreated Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Van Morrison and threw in an edgy pop sensibility borne directly from pirate radio. Their first album, Howlin' Wind, released in April, sounded to the few ears privileged to hear it like everything its title promised. The pecker-wood ofey scourge of lily-white banality from groups like Queen and Frampton were never going to give the line running from heart to gonads the electric acceleration your average alienated misfit teenager going on forty needs to survive. But Parker shot-blasted down the goddamn door and before the hinges had stopped resisting shuffle-danced in wearing his Soul Shoes while ordering God to stop asking him questions, all with a fans love of Stax-era romance records and a working man's defiance. Even an essentially throwaway tune like "Back to School Days" could insert a lift in one's militancy with lines like:

Don't seem to be a break in the line
Don't seem to be no break boys
They ruined my vision, screwed up my eyes
Tell ya what I'm gonna do boys

Now if I think I might break even
I might go home quietly
I'll marry a rich girl but otherwise
I'm gonna raise hell and rightly.

   More art and consciousness rose from Parker's delivery of those lines than in a year's worth of the friggin Village Voice or NME. parker wasn't culling from headlines. He was making them. Or trying to do so. The public--having been beaten into narcolepsy with the puke-a-thon of mass music--didn't get exposed to guitar and horn bands sharp enough to slice granite. Howlin' Wind failed to chart. 
   A hastily recorded follow-up, Heat Treatment, was met with better commercial reception--barely. With only one weak song on the album ("Black Honey"), it seemed as if Parker and the Rumour could hardly miss. "That's What They All Say" bludgeoned the listener with Dylan-esque sarcasm. "Help Me Shake It" and "Hotel Chambermaid" rocked like Gary Bonds in new tennis shoes. And "Fools Gold" was so damned good it could make statues cry. If an album could be said to emanate with radioactive soul, Heat Treatment was it. With pub rock maestro Brinsley Schwarz on lead guitar and Bob Andrews keyboards, Martin Belmont on rhythm guitar, Andrew Bodnar on bass and Steve Goulding on drums, there was simply no good reason for Graham and the Rumour not to be, if not household names, at least garage heroes. 
    But it was not until 1979's Squeezing Out Sparks that the inevitable happened. A considerably slicker album, Sparks took the group to a level mortals have seldom dared to scale. Parker had always been keen on metaphor, but for the first time songs like "Discovering Japan" worked beyond allegory, becoming extended philosophies on the nature of humanity, while more direct assaults, such as "Passion is No Ordinary Word,"  indicted contemporary mores with the kind of vengeance that had been percolating in Parker for years:

We got new idols for the screen today
Although they make a lot of noises
They got nothing to say.
I try to look amazed but it's an act
The movie might be new
But it's the same soundtrack.

   Most challenging of all was "You Can't Be Too Strong," ostensibly about abortion but ultimately a manifesto regarding the triviality of man's abuse of woman's emotions. A lot of people considered the song to be anti-choice. To my ears, it's more about the responsibility of consequences. Either way, it was clearly Parker and the Rumour's most poignant song to date.
    The Village Voice listed Squeezing Out Sparks as its album of the year. 
   Parker's last album with The Rumour for thirty years was the follow-up, the rather weak The Up Escalator. Despite contributions from Bruce Springsteen and production work from the estimable Jimmy Iovine, few of the growing fan base was favorably impressed. 
    Some of us stuck with Parker through the 1980s and 1990s, through occasionally blissful albums like The Mona Lisa's Sister, Alone in America and Human Soul, while pretending that LPs like Christmas Cracker and Acid Bubblegum had never existed. 
    The real point of Parker's legacy today is not one of trying to recreate the past glories. On the contrary, the point is to open up today's minds to the possibility--every bit as remote and real as it was in 1976--that under a foreign or domestic cake of earth there might just be some gas station attendant looking to break out with something original, something that squeezed out the far from ordinary passion our current malaise requires. 
    While we wait, have a drink on me.
Graham Parker


Wednesday, March 26, 2014


In a distant street a distant beat repeats machine gun like
In a forest grows a sweet fruit filled with poison
In a clear blue sky a plane bursts into flames high above us
In an office blind machines burst out data in a rush

Whatever they say, they say
It isn't true what they say
It didn't come from the gays
The blacks, the Haitians or the whores or
Green monkeys, ya ya ya
Or green monkeys.

    --Graham Parker

   Snopes disagrees. The idea that the CIA or Center for Disease Control or Friends of Reagan created Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in a laboratory is anathema to them. The accepted wisdom remains that AIDS "jumped" from chimpanzees to humans. Our brother monkeys sometimes carry a virus known as simian immunodeficiency syndrome. 
   What Snopes does not bother to mention is that this evidence is based on a total of four chimpanzees, something short of a scientific certainty. In short, the theory holds that humans ate infected chimpanzees, or else ate something that had eaten the apes. What a lot of disease scientists liked about this theory was that it was hard to disprove. Then in 1987, someone found a sick cat. The cat had AIDS. More recently, virologists have identified twenty primates and sub-primates that have AIDS-like viruses. Their conclusion? The illness has existed for a thousand years, yet until recently did not kill its host.
   According to The AIDS Institute, "The earliest known case of infection with HIV-1 in a human was detected in a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (How he became infected is not known.) Genetic analysis of this blood sample suggested that HIV-1 may have stemmed from a single virus in the late 1940s or early 1950s." 
   Okay, now just because the evidence supporting the green monkey theory is less than impressive, that does not mean that the CIA created HIV in a laboratory. Patricia A. Turner published a good book in 1993 called I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African American Culture, wherein the author systematically demonstrates that black fear of white America is far from unfounded. She further unfurls evidence showing how, as far back as arriving slave ships, speculation turned to rumor and frequently folklore.
   We live in a world where many people have discovered that the CIA has been involved in spreading cocaine usage throughout south central Los Angeles, where the same agency has actively subverted democratically-elected governments, where the same college-boy network has assassinated (and failed to assassinate) what it perceived to be unfriendly leaders. These things actually happened and yet no one in our enlightened age has seen fit to dismantle Central Intelligence. Indeed, their budget is secret even from those in government who routinely approve it. Since it does not make any difference to many in America what the CIA does, then anything we cannot otherwise explain--as long as it fits a preexisting pattern of CIA behavior--can not be dismissed out of hand, especially if the result has been in some way linked to the detriment of people who do not wield much power or people whom the CIA might consider expendable. If Charlie Manson, Richard Speck and Ted Bundy all lived on the same block and a bunch of young women turned up missing or dead, a reasonable populace might be forgiven for suspecting a connection.

This is the third in a series of pieces on modern conspiracy theories, most recently More Popular Conspiracy Theories and Popular Conspiracy Theories.
Patricia A Turner


Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Off the coast of Perth, Australia
with the maties in the brig
Ship captain's dancing sideways
while the sailors roast a pig
Greenpeace to the starboard side
and pirates to the right
I am Richard Engel
reporting on the fight.

Oil prices are outrageous
and the Russians are to blame
All due to a civil war
across the whole Ukraine
My cameraman is phoning in
the footage to New York
It's nine AM in Bangkok
and it's time for my report.

I am Richard (He is Richard)
Not lionhearted (no he isn't)
I just have a job to do.
I am Richard (He's still Richard)
Not the King (no he isn't)
And I won't stop til I'm through.

Al-Qaeda's smuggling armaments
across the Ivory Coast
Still G7 leaders fight about
who it was burned the toast.
My taxi driver spies part time
for the Taliban
But I am Richard Engel
and I'm here to foil his plan.

My laundry's in East Timor
and my lunch in Saigon
My passport's disappearing
and my box of Tums is gone.
But NBC is calling
and my cameraman's in flames
My name is Richard Engel 
and I'm here to share the blame.

I am Richard (He is Richard)
Not lionhearted (No he isn't)
I just have a job to do.
I am Richard (He's still Richard)
Not the King (no he isn't)
And I won't stop til I'm through.

I know more about the arms race
than a thousand diplomats
Most of them are dancing
or else barfing in their hats.
They don't ask my opinion
Cause they wouldn't like the sound
My name is Richard Engel
here to buy another round.

I stay awake til dawn here
Rachel must get my report
My manliness doesn't bother her
because I'm somewhat short.
But I'm as brave as anyone
and soon you will agree
I don't do Fox or CNN
but MSNBC.

In case you're interested, I think Richard is fantastic.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


   As you may recall from our previous dip into the strangeness of paranoia (delusional and otherwise) in Popular Conspiracy Theories, much of the justification and rationale for belief in things that we probably do not fully understand stems from, among other minutiae, a general anomie and distrust of the sources of our information. People who watch Fox News just know that those lovers of MSNBC are full of shit, just as the lovers of Link TV look with pitying contempt upon the empty souls of Rupert Murdoch's graveyard of misery. And all of them hate CNN, for either being a corporate tool or a propaganda outlet, depending on whom you ask. (Just a few years ago, the department chair where I was teaching made a grand statement about how Wikipedia was not a reliable source for research papers. The website's very popularity and ease of access worked against it, as did the presumably democratic nature of its input. Now, five years later, a reasonable argument can be made that the Wikipedia people are better fact-checkers than some of their more academic counterparts.)
   Epistemology wrinkles the issue of how we know what we know. If we believe the compelling argument of a movie I love, American Hustle, we believe what we want to believe. That feels right to me, but I would take it even farther and say that we believe what reinforces what we want to believe. You distrust people such as LBJ, Nixon, the Pentagon, Hunt Oil and anti-Castro Cubans, it becomes automatic to believe in a conspiracy to snuff John Kennedy. As the frequently brilliant Bill Westbrook used to put it, once you decide a conspiracy exists, any explanation makes a certain amount of sense.   
   None of that means the explanation is necessarily wrong. What does matter is the method one used to come to the conclusion. Starting with the conclusion and working backwards is popular and just as wrongheaded. That JFK was killed as the result of a conspiracy needs to be a conclusion rather than a premise. On the other hand, just as with geometric theorems, sometimes conclusions become premises in other "proofs." The statement "Two lines are parallel if they extend into infinity without intersecting" is first a conclusion and later a given used to prove something else. Based on acoustical evidence, the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that President Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy. If we proceed from that conclusion as our next "given," then we may postulate that the consequence of that murder was a coup d'etat. If we accept that conclusion, then it logically follows that an overthrow of the government is something that is possible in the modern American political system. But going from there we get into a lot of murk. If you say that the Supreme Court perpetrated a nonviolent coup d'etat in 2000 when it acted to deliver up its decision in Bush v. Gore, I will grant considerable circumstantial evidence supports your argument. The danger in all this is not so much the uncovering of the truth as the inability to distinguish truth from conjecture. God knows we have suffered an overabundance of conjecture posing as critical thinking in the matter of the missing Malaysian 777. 
   All this muddiness makes it occasionally tempting to shrug and walk away from thinking altogether, a temptation reinforced with all the trivia and stupidity available on TV, popular music and internet vapidity. I suspect that the presence of so much muck means we must be even more vigilant in our efforts to figure things out.
   One thing that I have noticed--and it is one of the biggest reasons the epistemology of our present moment is so crucial--is that widespread threat and panic--or the perception of these things--invariably leads to governmental suppression of civil and civic rights and especially of the truth. The benefit to the Iranian hostage takers of fifty-two Americans was a heightened paranoia that undid much of the progressive and secular thinking of the previous twenty years in the United States. The events of September 11, 2001, had even harsher consequences for America, even beyond the 3000 graves that were dug and filled. A dubious election became quickly ratified, along with internal repression of voting rights and the provisions of the ironically titled Patriot Act. 
   Naturally, Americans did not invent this paranoia. The first major instance during the last one hundred years was probably the Reichstag Fire on February 27, 1933. Adolf Hitler had been appointed German Chancellor by President Hindenberg. But the National Socialists Party's grip on the government was far from solid despite the rampant antisemitism and economic disparity in Germany and much of Europe. Though the origins of the fire are still unclear, in a propaganda maneuver, the coalition government (Nazis and the German Nationalist People's Party) blamed the Communists. The Nazi press described the Reichstag fire as the work of the Bolsheviks and a signal for their planned uprising.  Although the Communists had not developed any plans for an uprising, the impact of propaganda and terror on existing fears of a Communist takeover convinced many Germans that Hitler’s decisive action had saved the nation from “Bolshevism.” The Reichstag Fire Decree permitted the regime to arrest and incarcerate political opponents without specific charge, dissolve political organizations, and to suppress publications. It also gave the central government the authority to overrule state and local laws and overthrow state and local governments. 
   A lot of people have speculated that the Nazis themselves were responsible for the fire, knowing they could easily blame the left. However the arson was launched, the Nazis did exploit it. The Reichstag Fire Decree was the document that sealed Germany's fate, as well as that of all of Europe. In that decree lay the foundations of World War II and the extermination of more than six million Jews. 
   When we get together again, we'll wrap up this little diversion into conspiracy theories. Until then, don't believe everything you read.

Thursday, March 20, 2014



   Conspiracy theories proliferate in large part because human beings enjoy explaining things we don't understand by creating myths. How did we explain the existence of fire before we understood it through experience or through science? Prometheus stole it from the gods. The things we believe today through science may--if our species survives--be dismissed by future generations as superstitious silliness. After all, no one has ever seen as atom. We simply infer that they exist because of other shared illusions we accept for the sake of convenient balances. At least the existence of atoms can be supported by what we call the scientific method. And that is something that is not true of many so-called theories that we as people have developed to explain troubling phenomena.
    Another reason for the popularity of these theories is that massive public corruption has tainted the legitimacy of our sources of information, be they textbooks, scholastic journals, internet websites or television news programs. People read or view an event rather than seeing it in front of their own eyes. When governments and businesses that often dominate media are deemed corrupt, people may use their imaginations to fill in gaps. This tendency may even be exploited by the governments, businesses, or media.
    Nevertheless, several theories about bizarre alleged events persist. Perhaps the most persistent events have been the Philadelphia Experiment, the idea that the works of Shakespeare were written by Francis Bacon, the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, the idea that the Nazis may have burned the Reichstag, HAARP, Atlantis, the suggestion that AIDS was created in a laboratory, CIA drug trafficking, Project Paperclip, Area 51, the Bilderberg Group, and even the true identity of the writer of this website (Phil Mershon).
    The idea of the Philadelphia Experiment is that the USS Eldridge was used on October 28, 1943, as part of a Navy experiment to test Einstein's Unified Field Theory--essentially combining the theory of relativity with electromagnetism. Very much allegedly, the Navy seems to have believed it would be possible to use electromagnetic fields to refract light rays around an object and thereby render that object invisible. Nice work if you can get it. On the date in question, the USS Eldridge is said to have not only become invisible, but in fact to have transported from the Philadelphia Naval Yard to Norfolk, Virginia, where it sat for a spell, before returning to its original location. Funny enough, despite a couple movies and several magazine articles and even books, none of this actually happened. 
    The Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship annoys me because I very much enjoy Shakespeare's tragedies and become uncomfortable with speculation about his true identity. A very useful analysis of the matter is found on a site called Who Was Shakespeare. After all this time, people presumably knowledgeable in such matters cannot agree as to the exact birth date of William and all those paintings you've admired are presumably nonsensical, which is why no two look alike. I do know this: The controversy has been going on since at least the mid-seventeenth century. I also know that if I'd been Francis Bacon and actually had written Macbeth, I'd have made damn sure everyone knew it. 
    Regarding the assassination of President John Kennedy, anyone who claims to have the single correct solution is probably full of malarkey. However, certain indisputable matters linger: Lee Oswald was never convicted of the crime; Rose Cheramie was thrown from a car in Eugene Louisiana on November 20 1963 (two days before the murder) and while on her way to the local hospital told Patrolman Fruge that she had been disgorged from the car by two gangsters who worked for Jack Ruby and that the men were part of an assassination team whose target was John Kennedy; Lee Oswald gave every indication of working with both the pro and anti-Castro Cuban community; the alleged assassin was murdered on television two days after the murder by Jack Ruby; during the first five years after the murder, many people who espoused alternate theories of the crime died under peculiar circumstances. One of the most trustworthy writings on the subject comes from HSCA member Gaeton Fonzi
   Regarding the assassination of Martin Luther King, I will let the court and jury tell the story:

THE COURT: In answer to the question did Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Dr. Martin Luther King, your answer is yes. Do you also find that others, including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the defendant? Your answer to that one is also yes. And the total amount of damages you find for the plaintiffs entitled to is one hundred dollars. Is that your verdict?

THE JURY: Yes (In unison).

   I wonder why you have not already heard about this trial's outcome, a trial that reached resolution on December 8, 1999 in a Shelby County, Tennessee courtroom in a case known as Coretta Scott King et al, v. Loyd Jowers. The jury indicated it believed King had been assassinated as the result of a conspiracy involving the United States Government. You can read the trial transcripts.

    What's that? We're out of time? Okay, alright. I'll be back here tomorrow with the details of the rest of our conspiracy theory list. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014


   Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared July 2, 1937, on the pilot's second attempt to circumnavigate the earth. Her airplane lost radio contact shortly after she approached Howland Island.
Amelia Earhart

    On December 15, 1944, jazz musician Glenn Miller was flying from England to France. When his plane attempted to cross the English Channel, it disappeared.

   Five torpedo bombers left from Ft Lauderale, Florida for training exercises in 1945. Radio transmissions indicated that the instructor got lost when compasses malfunctioned. Radio contact was lost before the exact problem was determined. Once they disappeared, the Navy sent a seaplane with thirteen men on board to find them. The seaplane also disappeared in what we now think of as the Bermuda Triangle. 

   On its trip from Guam to the Philippines, Flight 739 of the Flying Tiger Line disappeared in 1962, without so much as a distress. 107 passengers were on board. 

   October 16, 1972: Congressmen Hale Boggs and Nick Begich vanished when their twin-engine plane traveled over a remote section of Alaska.

    In 2003, a Boeing 727 departed from Quatro de Fevereiro on its way to Burkino Faso. The plane disappeared in Luanda, Angola.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


   Turner Classic Movies ran a trio of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky films the other night. The three movies (Marty, Middle of the Night and The Bachelor Party) were fine. Betsy Blair was the fine star of Marty. Indeed, as my long-suffering roommate pointed out, they were all of a type, sort of an analysis of domesticity in the late 1950s. Delbert Mann directed all three and you can certainly make the point that the scenes from each film would have fit well within one another. From one perspective, that makes them formulaic. From another it betrays certain topical obsessions. I think the biggest disappointment a budding film aficionado would have with these three is that compared to the wild changes in film-making going on at the same time in Europe, these feel rather tame. It's lousy being alone. It's no fun getting old. Hanging out with your wife beats getting drunk with your friends. Or, respectively, Ernest Borgnine as a sensitive spouse is more fun than being alone. Watching Kim Novak acting crazy beats getting old. Don Murray was a better actor than Tom Hanks, even if you are getting drunk with your friends. The most memorable aspect of any of these pictures was at the end of Bachelor Party when Caroline Jones gets billed as "The Existentialist." 
   None of this should be taken as to diminish the talent of Paddy Chayefsky. This is, after all, the man who scripted Paint Your Wagon, The Hospital and Altered States--the latter a great script either enhanced or butchered by director Ken Russell (it just depends on who you ask). What these three movies share with their three earlier brethren is (1) they were, at the time of their release, considered quite edgy, (2) they have not aged especially well, and (3) the fact that they have not aged well is not overcome by their artistic merit.
   The exception in Mr. Chayefsky's pantheon is Network (1976). Oh, I will grant you that many of the details of the film--directed by Sidney Lumet--have faded into the ahistoric past, but it's my past so who cares? The sentiment, the thrust, the anticipation of doom is still fresh as the smell of a Brillo pad in the morning. Here's a bit from early in the movie.

10. INT. 4TH FLOOR CORRIDOR - UBS BUILDING - 6:28 P.14. - TUESDAY LOOKING INTO the small network-news make-up room where HOWARD BEALE is standing, Kleenex tucked into his shirt collar, getting a few last whisks from the MAKE-UP LADY. Finished, HOWARD pulls the Kleenex from his collar, takes a last sip from a glass of booze on the make-up shelf, gathers his papers and exits, turns and enters -- 

11. INT. NETWORK NEWS STUDIO - 4TH FLOOR. Typical Newsroom studio -- cameras, cables, wall maps, flats and propping, etc. HOWARD nods, smiles to various PERSONNEL -- CAMERAMEN, ASSISTANT DIRECTORS, ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS -- as he makes his way to his desk facing Camera One. He sits, prepares his papers, looks up to the control room, nods -- MUSIC ABRUPTLY OUT: END OF CREDITS: 

12. INT. CONTROL ROOM - 4th FLOOR The clock wall reads: 6:30. Typical control room. A room-length double bank of television monitors including two color monitor screens, the show monitor and the pre-set monitor. Before this array of TV screens sits the DIRECTOR, flanked on his left by the PRODUCTION ASSISTANT (GIRL) who stop-watches the show, and on his right by the TECHNICAL DIRECTOR who operates a special board of buttons and knobs. (On the TECHNICAL DIRECTOR's right sits the LIGHTING DIRECTOR). At the moment, the show monitor has the network's Washington correspondent, JACK SNOWDEN, doing a follow-up on the attempted assassination of President Ford in San Francisco -- 

-- the first attempt on President Ford's life was eighteen days ago -- and again yesterday in San Francisco -- 

DIRECTOR (murmuring into his mike) 
-- Lou, kick that little thing shut on ground level -- 

SNOWDEN (ON MONITOR) -- In spite of two attempts -- 

The show monitor screen has switched over to show film of President Ford arriving at the San Francisco airport -- 

Mr. Ford says he will not become -- 

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT (murmurs) -- forty seconds -- 

DIRECTOR (murmurs into mike) -- 
twenty seconds to one -- 

DIRECTOR -- one -- 

HOWARD BEALE'S image suddenly flips on-screen -- 

-- thirty seconds to commercial freeze -- 

DIRECTOR -- head roll -- 


The DIRECTOR and TECHNICAL DIRECTOR turn in their seats to join HARRY HUNTER and his SECRETARY in a brief gossip -- 

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like at this moment to announce that I will be retiring from this program in two weeks' time because of poor ratings -- 

The DIRECTOR has whispered something to HARRY HUNTER'S SECRETARY which occasions sniggers from the SECRETARY and from HARRY HUNTER. The TECHNICAL DIRECTOR stands to get in on the joke -- 

-- what'd you say? -- 

-- and since this show was the only thing I had going for me in my life, I have decided to kill myself -- 

HARRY HUNTER'S SECRETARY murmurs something which causes HARRY HUNTER to burst into laughter -- 

-- so what'd she say? -- 

I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to blow my brains out right on this program a week from today -- 

(frowning and very puzzled indeed by this diversion from the script) -- ten seconds to commercial -- 

so tune in next Tuesday. That'll give the public relations people a week to promote the show, and we ought to get a hell of a rating with that, a fifty share easy -- 

A bewildered PRODUCTION ASSISTANT nudges the DIRECTOR, who wheels back to his mike -- 

DIRECTOR (into mike) 
-- and -- 

Listen, did you hear that? -- 

Take VTA. 

The monitor screen erupts into a commercial for cat food. 

(leaning in from his glassed-in cubicle) What was that about? 

Howard just said he was going to blow his brains out next Tuesday. 

What're you talking about? 

Didn't you hear him? He just said --

What's wrong now? 

Howard just said he was going to kill himself next Tuesday. 

What do you mean Howard just said he was going to kill himself next Tuesday? 

(nervously riffling through her script) He was supposed to do a tag on Ron Nesson and into commercial -- 

(from his doorway) He said tune in next Tuesday, I'm going to shoot myself -- 

Everybody's attention is now on the double bank of black-and-white monitor screens showing various parts of the studio, all of which show agitated behavior. Several of the screens show HOWARD at his desk in vehement discussion with a clearly startled FLOOR MANAGER with headset and no less startled ASSOCIATE PRODUCER -- 

(on mike to FLOOR MANAGER) What the hell's going on? 

On the pre-set monitor screen, the FLOOR MANAGER with headset looks up -- 

(voice booming into the control room) I don't know. He just said he was going to blow his brains out -- 

(into mike) What the hell's this all about, Howard? 

(shouting at the floor PERSONNEL gathering around him) Will you get the hell out of here? We'll be back on air in a couple of seconds! 

DIRECTOR (roaring into the mike) 
What the fuck's going on, Howard? 

HOWARD (ON MONITOR) I can't hear you -- 

DIRECTOR (bawling at the AUDIO MAN) 
Put the studio mike on! 

We're back on in eleven seconds -- 

SLOCUM (on floor) 
They want to know what the fuck is going on, Howard. 

HOWARD (on monitor) 
I can't hear you. 

DIRECTOR (bawling at the Audio man) 
Put the studio mike on! 

We're back on in eleven seconds. 

Harry, I think we better get him off -- 

HARRY HUNTER (roaring at the Audio Man) 
Turn his mike off! 

AUDIO MAN (now back in the control room) 
What the hell's going on? 

HARRY HUNTER (raging) 
Turn the fucking sound off, you stupid son of a bitch! This is going out live! 

Three -- two -- one -- 

Take 2 -- 

At which point, the TECHNICAL DIRECTOR pushes a button; the jangling cat food commercial flips off the show monitor to be instantly replaced by a scene of gathering bedlam around HOWARD'S desk. The AUDIO MAN flees in panic back to the cubicle to turn off the audio but not before HARRY HUNTER and the DIRECTOR going out live to 67 affiliates can be heard booming:

Chrissakes! Black it out! This is going out live to sixty-seven fucking affiliates ! Shit! 

This is the dumbest thing I ever saw! -- 

MAX SCHUMACHER, behind his desk staring petrified at his office console on which pandemonium ha broken out. 
The FLOOR MANAGER and the ASSOCIATE PRODUCER and now an ELECTRICIAN are trying to pull HOWARD away from his desk and HOWARD is trying to hit anybody he can with an ineffective right hand haymaker -- 

Get the fuck away from me! 

(coming from all directions) -- cut the show! -- -- get him out of there! -- -- go to standby! -- -- for Chrissakes, you stupid -- 


MAX (grabs the phone) 
How the hell do I know? -- 
(he hangs up, seizes another phone, barks:) 
Give me the network news control room! 

On the MONITOR SCREEN, hysteria is clearly dominating. The SCREEN has suddenly leaped into a fragment of the just-done cat food COMMERCIAL, then a jarring shot of the bedlam of the studio floor. This particular camera seems unattended as it begins to PAN dementedly back and forth showing the confusion on the studio floor. Then abruptly the SCREEN is filled with Vice President designate Nelson Rockefeller testifying before the Senate Rules Committee -- 

MAX (shouting into phone) 
Black it out! 

The SCREEN abruptly goes into BLACK as MAX slashes his phone back into its cradle. His PHONE promptly RINGS again, but MAX is already headed for the door. The SCREEN goes into STANDBY. His SQUAWK BOX suddenly blares -- 

What the hell happened, Max? -- 

MAX (shouting as he exits) How the hell do I know? I'm going down now!

In July 1974, news personality Christine Chubbuck stared into the camera at the local Florida television station where she worked and said, "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living color, you are going to see another first--attempted suicide." Whereupon she put a gun behind her ear and fired.
   Paddy took elements then current and fired them into the near future. A multinational conglomerate owned by Arabs buys up the fourth news network. News becomes entertainment. Opinion replaces content. Blood and guts dominates. A local left wing terrorist organization gets its own prime time show. Faye Dunaway becomes a man. William Holden becomes a woman. And when Howard Beale's ratings drop, the Network has him assassinated on the air. Ned Beatty tells the world that ATT and IBM are countries. Robert Duvall becomes a Republican. 

   It doesn't matter whether you know Angela Davis, Patty Hearst, Squeaky Fromme, Sara Jane Moore or even Gerald Ford. What matters is that you are perceptive enough to realize that what this movie says to the ages is that this movie shows how things are now and at the time it was made things were not yet quite that way. Think of it as watching "Star Trek" in the twenty-fifth century, except the show is well done. 

Burt Lancaster