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Thursday, August 30, 2012

BRUCE LEE AS ROMEO

    Those of you who followed yesterday's story on Greenland here in Philropost may want to gaze at a related story about the lowest recorded sea levels in the Arctic Ocean, reported in the UK Guardian. Check it out here.

    But in the meantime, lets cook up some fun with a Bruce Lee movie.
   Stars: Four of five.

"You got me working, boss man
Working 'round the clock
I want me a drink of water
You won't let me stop
You big boss man
Can you hear me when I call?
Oh, you ain't so big
You just tall, that's all."

    --Al Dixon

   Known as Fists of Fury in Europe, Big Boss Man (1971) was not, as is often argued, Bruce Lee's first motion picture. It was, however, his first starring role in a film and was certainly the movie that put master Bruce on the road map as the philosophic and practical king of a style of fighting called Jeet Kune Do. Interestingly, the follow-up movie was going to be called Fist of Fury (note the singular), but ended up being called The Chinese Connection.
   Whatever one calls The Big Boss, it was and remains one of the most beautiful examples of the form. Lee's character, Cheng, moves from China to Thailand to go live with his uncle. He has sworn on his mother's amulet to not fight and we are given the impression that his sudden arrival in Thailand may have something to do with avoiding the law back home, although this is strictly conjecture. Cheng takes a job with an ice company that packs clear bags of heroin inside the large blocks of frozen water. As more and more of the workers realize what is going on, those workers get offed by the merciless foreman's men, or the manager's men, or, ultimately, the men of the Big Boss. There's a hierarchy here--one that gets referred to in all Lee's films, whether literally or metaphorically--and that provides a nice continuity, believe it or not. It also provides an understanding of society, one no more complex than, say, Romeo and Juliet, but one that is a lot more interesting. 
   Cheng gets pushed around and eventually the warrior decides to fight, just as we know he will. After all, there was no reason to make him a reluctant pacifist other than to enjoy watching him struggle against the promises he has made to people who are no longer on camera.
   Speaking of the camera, I for one think it was clever to have the blaring opening theme music carry over onto the opening shots of the actual film, as if to suggest that this Hong Kong movie was either an example of great art or the sloppiest thing ever made. The truth is that it comes far closer to the former than the latter, though it has elements of both, just like Romeo and Juliet
    I hope you actually watched the above clip from the movie because, if you did, chances are you noticed two things that substantiate my claims about high art and clumsiness. As to the art, this was the first movie I ever saw to have kicks coming right into the camera, much less to have them punctuated by over-the-top dramatic music that cues our emotional reactions for us. This is also part of the sloppiness I mentioned. But art trumps clumsy if for no other reason than that Bruce Lee was such a beautiful guy. 
    And he was beautiful. Part of that beauty comes across as this near-deity gets used by the manager when the latter promotes Cheng to the role of foreman, consciously driving a wedge between the warrior and his supplicants. Again we are reminded of the hierarchy and again we get a sense that this wasn't such a bucket of slop after all. 
   The title character himself is a hedonistic karate master of considerable skill, although he is no match for Bruce Lee. He is also without conscience and possesses something of a sadistic streak, one which his own minions have internalized and use to control the humble working class. 
   Real life is usually not so cut and dried and there are scumbag workers just as it is possible that some bosses are humane. But that consideration is not appropriate to the genre. Just as the two teenagers in R&J are the only ones with any sense--despite being proved to be complete idiots--so is it with The Big Boss. The powerful are monsters and the weak need a good example set for them in self-defense. Well, sometimes that is exactly the way it feels out in the real world and this movie is all about feeling over thought. Again, because this is a fight movie, that prioritization is entirely appropriate, however reprehensible it may sound on the written page.
    If you want to argue that since everything about this movie is blatantly contrived and that Lee is one of the few people in the film who can actually act, well, you'll win that argument, at least on points. If you want to say that that means this is any less exciting than the sword fights in the story of the Capulets and Montagues, you are certain to get your ass kicked. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

GREENLAND, WE HARDLY KNEW YE

   
   Nobody in the country of Greenland pays much attention to Philropost. It is fair to say that no one in the entire northern nation of Greenland has ever once looked in on the fascinating happenings here in Philropost. I intend for that situation to change as of today. 
    What do we think of when we think of that country? Probably we think of the Northern Lights, fauna, hot springs, and ice bergs. What we better start thinking of is melting glaciers. Greenland is almost entirely covered by a massive ice sheet that is roughly the size of Mexico and up to two miles thick. The Greenland ice sheet contains nearly a tenth of the world's fresh water supply. If this ice sheet were to melt completely, sea levels would rise by more than 20 feet, presenting catastrophic consequences to coastal regions around the world. Even a 3-foot increase in sea level, which will probably be exceeded by the end of this century, threatens tens of millions of people living in coastal zones around the world. 
    Surface temperatures are extremely precarious in Greenland and very important. When surface temperatures rise enough to melt ice, fissures known as moulins appear. These moulins dig into the remaining ice and water seeps in. The water is warmer than the ice (by definition) and this warmth in turn melts away the ice in the fissures. When we hear scientists talking about "tipping points," this is exactly the type of physical evidence to which they refer. A tipping point, simply put, is any occurring phenomenon from which there is no turning back and from which irreversible damages will occur. There can be regional as well as global tipping points. An example of the former took place in August of 2010, when an iceberg covering nearly 100 square miles--four times the size of the island of Manhattan--calved from the Petermann Glacier on the northwestern coast of Greenland. The iceberg is the largest to break off in the Arctic in nearly a half century, sounding a warning bell that global warming pollution must be cut to avoid further catastrophic loss of ice on Greenland, at the poles, and from glaciers around the world.
   Greenland's own website (well, the island didn't create the site, so it might be more accurate to say the website of the bureau of tourism) claims that global warming is real and that the only issue left to debate is whether the increase in global temperatures is man-made or cyclical. In reality, this is not an issue of debate. The myriad pollutants created in the name of industry and progress are in reality neither industrious nor progressive, which is why they had to be named after their opposites (ignorance is strength, war is peace, etc). 
    There were some reports this past May that the ice sheets of Greenland were actually melting faster in the 1930s than they are today. Sounds reassuring, doesn't it? Such pseudo-progressive sources as National Public radio based these reports on a story published in the May 3 edition of the Christian Science Monitor. What they did not bother to regurgitate was that the Monitor also showed photographs revealing that the ice sheets of Greenland are melting thirty times fast today than they did a mere ten years ago. To quote directly from the piece: "The researchers looked at the area's more than 200 glaciers individually. Some of these glaciers end on land, some drop off into the sea, and the rest gradually extend their ice sheets into the water, creating an ice shelf. The researchers saw that the glacier's type has a big impact on how quickly it flows. Land-ending ice sheets can move 30 to 325 feet (9 to 99 meters) per year, while glaciers that terminate in ice shelves move much faster, from 1,000 to more than 5,000 feet (305 to 1,600 m) per year. The glaciers that drop off into the sea are flowing the fastest, up to 7 miles (11 kilometers) per year and their speeds are accelerating." 
    Humans caused this. Not the Invisible Hand of Capitalism or the Mighty Hammer of Thor. Humans. But I'm not the only one saying so. Ask the Union of Concerned Scientists. In 2009 they published an article called "The Causes of Global Warming" which states, in part:
So how do scientists know that today’s warming is primarily caused by humans putting too much carbon in the atmosphere when we burn coal, oil, and gas or cut down forests?There are human fingerprints on carbon overload. When humans burn coal, oil and gas (fossil fuels) to generate electricity or drive our cars, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, where it traps heat. A carbon molecule that comes from fossil fuels and deforestation is “lighter” than the combined signal of those from other sources. As scientists measure the “weight” of carbon in the atmosphere over time they see a clear increase in the lighter molecules from fossil fuel and deforestation sources that correspond closely to the known trend in emissions.
Natural changes alone can’t explain the temperature changes we’ve seen. For a computer model to accurately project the future climate, scientists must first ensure that it accurately reproduces observed temperature changes. When the models include only recorded natural climate drivers—such as the sun’s intensity—the models cannot accurately reproduce the observed warming of the past half century. When human-induced climate drivers are also included in the models, then they accurately capture recent temperature increases in the atmosphere and in the oceans. When all the natural and human-induced climate drivers are compared to one another, the dramatic accumulation of carbon from human sources is by far the largest climate change driver over the past half century.Lower-level atmosphere—which contains the carbon load—is expanding. The boundary between the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and the higher atmosphere (stratosphere) has shifted upward in recent decades. This boundary has likely changed because heat-trapping gases accumulate in the lower atmosphere and that atmospheric layer expands as it heats up (much like warming the air in a balloon). And because less heat is escaping into the higher atmosphere, it is likely cooling. This differential would not occur if the sun was the sole climate driver, as solar changes would warm both atmospheric layers, and certainly would not have warmed one while cooling the other.

    So, Greenland, we hardly knew ye. It's sad to see you leave so soon. Write if you get work. We'll miss you-- a lot. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in 2007 that major advances in climate modelling and the collection and analysis of data now give scientists “very high confidence” (at least a 9 out of 10 chance of being correct) in their understanding of how human activities are causing the world to warm. This level of confidence is much greater than what could be achieved in 2001 when the IPCC issued its last major report. Are they stupid? Are they on the payrolls of billionaire environmentalists? Are they just hoping to get funding for more studies? Do their kids all drive hybrids? Or is it more likely that they are sincere in their concerns about our planet, perhaps more sincere than British Petroleum?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

HOW I SKIPPED DEATH AND WENT DIRECTLY INTO WRITING

   Alas, the day finds me in a mood to continue/conclude with one last gasp of self-promotion, this one in the form of something of a resume of published or presented things what I have done written that did indeed make their tender way onto either the printed page or the moving mouth, as the case may be. 
   First up we have the better part of the week-end update segment of the TV show "Saturday Night Live," this one happening on the first Saturday in the month of November, 1977. In a burst of hubris only matched by naivete, I mailed off a thoroughly unsolicited strand of typed pages to the writing staff of the show, mostly in what I considered pale imitation of their own work. To my surprise, the week-end update segment did a mighty fine job of regurgitating my stuff, probably the best part being the reference to Truex, the spray that actually promotes jock itch. I was never paid a cent for this, but then again, being a stupid amateur, I hadn't had the sense to ask for anything, either.
    Despite this idiotic attempt of mine, I was not entirely dissuaded from fame and impoverishment. I wrote up some disc jockey copy for a company calling itself Humorettes. They paid a whopping one dollar per sentence. The lines were just filler for the DJs to blurt out between songs, such as "Remember, the Peace Corps needs volunteers, so call Washington DC to get our toll free number" or "Monte Hall was found dead today behind Door Number Two. A startled Carol Merrill was unavailable for comment."
    Neither of these enterprises actually brought out the best in me, so I spent the next ten years or so learning how to write, at least a little bit. Then one happy night in 1988 I started up a modest music newsletter that eventually became a 'zine called Howling Wind, something I named after the Graham Parker song. By the time I sold my silly empire, I'd amassed a circulation of a little better than 1,500 per month, which wasn't too bad considering I was using a rusty old word processing machine to print up the master copy and was still using Alpha Graphics for the printing, an exercise which cost me more than I ever made from the experience. Still, I did get to meet and even chat with some long-haired singers and guitar players, none of whom were particularly interesting, including some with names you might even recognize. I sold the 'zine to some Los Angeles cretins and they went bust in two months. 
    I went back into a retreat and learned a whole lot more about writing for another ten years or so. Then sometime in April 2001, a magazine called Training & Development decided to publish an article I'd written called "Guerrilla Training" or some such thing. They paid me fifty dollars. 
   That was the beginning of quite a few fifty dollar checks. Career Opportunities Magazine bought a similar article and Nuvein acquired a pair of decent short stories, one of which was called "Recess." The other must have been pretty bad because I cannot remember it.
   Local newspapers such as the Ahwatukee Foothills Independent and some others threw me a couple bones for writing anti-holiday humor. 
    Then the weirdest thing happened. I was given a job as a speech writer for one of the two local utility oligopolies. The only speeches I'd written to that point had been for the mandatory college communications class back at dear Marshall University, but the conglomerate hired me anyway. I made the mistake of telling the CEO (a Mr. Silverman) that the speeches I prepared for him were far too important to deliver with one hand in his jacket pocket and the other behind his back and that he would be advised to look up from his papers once in a while to see if the audience was still in the room. Those CEOs! Man, some of them have no sense of humor at all. 
    A nifty online magazine called Perfect Sound Forever published five of my music articles over the span of a year. I did articles for them about Delaney and Bonnie, Phil Ochs and other people who are not quite household names, including a nice interview with jazz pianist and composer Carla Bley. These were all later republished by RocksBackPages, a fantastic online consortium helmed by Barney Hoskyns. Meanwhile, I was putting together a book with the help of Elizabeth Fritze, a book we called The Playlist, which was an amusing critical history of pop music from 1954 through 1984. No less a man than Bob Neuworth of Billboard Books (the man who had coined the terms "country & western" and "rhythm and blues") praised the writing and research as "first-rate," but admitted that books about music didn't make back their advances and so the company would reluctantly pass. Spin went crazy and published a pair of my record reviews. Whee. 
   Meanwhile, I was making the occasional dollar with pieces for Hackwriters (an online journal published out of the UK), Playtime (a naughty adult slick), and even had a play I'd written called "Recess"--yes, from the short story referenced earlier--put on by a Phoenix Theater company. A writer from the New Times was so angry with the anti-media nature of the play that he refused to write up his review and the play closed after two weeks. 
    The New Yorker agreed to publish a short story I'd written called "The Gingerbread Man and Cheese." However, I refused to edit out one of the scenes that I considered essential to the sweetness of the main character, so I kept the kill fee and they never ran the story, although a version of it did appear in Hackwriters. The editor there, a nice guy named Sam North, who taught creative screenwriting, suggested I write the story up as a screenplay. I did. He didn't like it. That was that.
   I wrote one novel called Nostalgia, Ohio, which was a horror-mystery thing that I liked very much. It was about a guy who goes back to his home town after being away many years only to find that absolutely nothing has changed, especially the things that he did not know about when he lived there. A girlfriend named Colleen Mack got very angry with me and burned my only copy before I could do anything with it. I was such a dope.
    I have written two other novels, one which was published earlier this year by Smashwords. It is called The Process Servers. It hasn't met with astounding sales, not by any stretch. I think I'm up to 120 e-copies sold. Another book, this one a nonfiction number containing more than one hundred film reviews, is called Locked Into Cinema. It only did about as well as the other. 
   And there is this blog. I love writing this blog. I must. Because of the ad revenue, I'm able to eek out something of a living doing this. It also gets my stuff in front of a wider audience than I might otherwise amass. And the Tonstant Weaders (as Dorothy Parker used to say) seem to enjoy the pieces. 
    As a result of these daily entries, I have been met with a few offers from some very good people and one of these days I'm going to take someone up on those publishing opportunities. Probably.
    Because my memory is quite sporadic in its consistency, I cannot recall any other publications than the ones I have mentioned, although I know for a fact that there are others. 
    The thing of it is is this: I am not for everyone, even though I secretly wish I were, or not so secretly, seeing as I have now admitted it. Not for everyone is the rhythm of the caffeine-fed insomniac who often substitutes arrogance for inspiration or who occasionally uses adverbs instead of nouns or for me when I lack anything interesting to say. There is a rhythm to all this. Sometimes that rhythm bolts the train and threatens to kick it off the tracks. Other times, the clicking, clopping monotony wears a bit thin. But ultimately people keep coming back, just as you have come back. For that I thank you. I thank you more than Elvis on stage, more than Henry Ford on the assembly line, and more than Sigmund Freud on cocaine. 
    You are the reason.

Monday, August 27, 2012

MAN, I CAN FLY LIKE A LEARJET

    

    As some of you may be aware, Lisa Ann and I have started a company called ROI. That stands for Return on Initiative. We picked "Initiative" over "Investment" because we wanted to emphasize the former and de-emphasize the latter, despite one of those words being harder to spell than the other. We also wanted to break open a cliche, but that's another story for another time.
    ROI has been a lot of fun for both of us. Lisa Ann works hard making sales calls and explaining to prospective customers how our websites are a good bit better than many of those offered by our competitors. I spend a certain amount of time building the sites and walking the customers through the process. 
    Something that Lisa Ann and I have noticed among our customers is that each one is stunned and amazed when it turns out that we keep our promise and actually deliver the goods. It's a pretty sad state of affairs when people will spend money on something that they do not expect to get. 
    Something else we have observed is that we actually enjoy talking with our customers. So far we've sold about two dozen websites and without a solitary exception we have wound up being delighted with the personalities of our clientele. It's a little weird, seeing as how neither one of us is what a reasonable person might consider philanthropic, in the sense of loving humanity. Yet every day one of us says to the other: "So-and-so just called. Talked with her/him for an hour. Really a great person, huh?"
    It has gotten through to us that our business is not about selling websites or developing blogs, placing strategic advertisements or managing search engine optimization. Oh, we do all of those things and many others, but those are not our jobs. Our job is to build mutually enjoyable relationships with our customers. It's fair to say that our clients want a little more out of life than they presently have, whether in terms of finance or social connections. But once their sites are up and running, what most of them focus on is the creative aspect of things. The customers who are on the phone with us at least once a week are also the same customers who are writing their own creative content. One of them writes about her problems with Lyme disease. Another writes about baseball. One woman runs a beauty salon and uses her site to promote it. One man is a pastor and writes a weekly column for his flock. We have a client who is a photographer and his excellent pictorials are featured throughout his site. We have another client who puts on puppet shows and uses her site to show people how to make the little marionettes. 

   None of these people expected to get what they paid for. None of them expected to enjoy themselves half as much as they are. None of them were what you would call proficient at using a PC. One of them doesn't have a computer and does all her updates from a smartphone. 
    You could say that we are quite surprised to be enjoying this enterprise as much as we do. If you did say that, you would be correct. Despite the fact that when I went to bed last night it was 1976, the future was spread out in front of me like sunlight cracking open a bank of fog, and today when I awoke it was 2012, with only a thin band of light blinking through the clutter--despite this unhappy situation, I do remain happy and even occasionally optimistic. Really? Phil Mershon is optimistic? Yes, indeed. I'm optimistic because two of the cores beliefs of my life are being validated in this little exercise in low finance. One, friendship is still better than romance, a million times better, and without the former there can be no substance to the latter. Working with Lisa Ann has confirmed that idea in me. Two, art still beats the hell out of politics. With all the cycloptic conventions dominating the news, with waves of belligerent advertisements marginalizing what little substance that still exists on television, and with the truth (as Winston Churchill supposedly said) being "protected by a circle of lies," none of it matters at all, at least not in any positive way. What matters is that life is filled with creative people who have something to say, or something to write, something to paint, something to publicly speak about, or sculpt, or sandblast. In short, art is about ideas and politics is about the absence of ideas. Politics is pure emotion, and while that may have its place (just ask any concentration camp survivor, or inmate in a federal prison), there can be no societal change without ideas and to that end, politics (especially American politics) is a shrinking vacuum, one which I hope the giant God of Art steps on and crushes beneath His/Her mighty foot. 
    I should also mention that none of this would be possible were it not for a few other brilliant and creative people, people who are much brighter than  I and who in any fair system, as Randy Newman said, "would prosper and thrive." They are Ruth Ann Hendrickson, Marybell Garcia, Joyce Porter, Regenia Lucas, Laurie Short, Laura Flanders, and (strictly for inspirational purposes) Julius Henry Marx. And of course, Lisa Ann Goodrich.
    Love to you all. And if this entry feels a bit more Pollyanna than most, rest assured I'll no doubt be back to my curmudgeonly self in no time. Until then, keep your feet on Casey Kasem and keep reaching for the stars.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

FISTS OF FEAR

   
    When I was a college student at the glorious Marshall University down Huntington way, I encountered a peculiar individual who, even among the circle of my crowd, qualified as the oddest duck I have ever met. His name was Paul Canker. I used to think of him as a Canker Sore. I'll tell you about him.
    One day I was leaving the Student Union cafeteria (where I spent half my time) when I saw a thin, stringy-haired guy in a denim jacket staggering toward me. So far so good. He looked a lot like me, so I probably stared longer than propriety required. As he reached an arm's distance away, he sniggered and glanced toward his own hand. I saw that his fist was making that familiar grip that indicated he was serving up his penis for dinner. I hadn't been shown this particular obscene gesture since high school and for just a moment I laughed, thinking in all likelihood he was simply making fun of the mentality that would engage in such adolescent stupidity. Then I glanced back up at his face and saw that he was glaring a look of not very well contained hatred for Yours Truly.
    I had never seen this guy before. That being the case, I could think of no legitimate reason why he would be making such a ridiculous gesture in my direction, so once again I laughed. I guess that was more than he could stand, as he immediately took a round-house right swing at me, one which missed by a mile--and not because I had enough sense to duck. He was simply awkward and in all likelihood stoned to the gills. 
    I was walking with a woman named Patty. She turned to me and asked what the hell that had been all about. I explained that I had no idea whatsoever. 
   Later that same day I was sitting in the Student Coffee House (where I spent the other half of my time) swilling beer and pretending to be funnier than I actually was. On my way back from the juke box, having selected some Tom Petty tune, I once again ran into this oddity. Once again he approached me, once again making the idiot gesture while snarling and pretending to be a tough guy. Once again I chuckled. Then I asked what he wanted. He just stared at me. I turned to walk away. The memory was about to drift away when I felt a push come from behind. Now, as was my habit in those days, I happened to be carrying a pitcher of beer at the time. So when I fell, the full pitcher went with me. By some Divinity of Hops miracle, I landed and did something of a somersault, rising out of the fall in the way that only drunkards can do and somehow not a drop of precious liquid was spilled, even as I stood back up and spun around with the intent of cold-cocking the bastard. The group of saints with whom I'd been drinking were in far better states than I and a few of them got up and chased the pecker-head away. 
    Fast forward a week or so. I'm back in the cafeteria, once again sitting with Patty and a few other friends. All at once Patty yells, "Hey!" as she looks over my shoulder. Following her gaze, I saw that Paul Canker had poured his cup of hot coffee onto my denim backpack, drenching its contents. Taking a moment to collect my thoughts, I picked up my own coffee cup, found the lout sitting alone--naturally--at a table. I walked right up to him and hit his lap with my own hot cup of java. He stood up and rammed a second cup--which I had not seen--right into my face, shattering my eyeglasses and burning my eyes. That hurt a lot. I knocked him out with one punch, something I probably should have done much sooner. 
    Someone called security as I waited back at my table, explaining with varying degrees of success to my friends that I had no idea who this freak was or why he was apparently out to get me. 
   Security arrived in the form of one old guy and one much larger young guy. My friends split. 
   The old guy sat with me while the young guy went behind the wall partition to tend to Paul. We sat in silence listening to some weird sounds that terminated in a loud thump. That thump turned out to be the sound of Paul once again hitting the floor. The young guy had gotten pissed off and smacked him in the mouth. 
   The junior security guard, whose name was Raoul, sat down with me and his co-worker. He said, "If anybody asks you, make sure you tell them you didn't lay a hand on him."
   As I found out later, Paul Canker had been thrown out of a lot of classes at Marshall for swinging on his professors. The story was that he was often high on some type of accelerant. 
    One thing and another and I was approached by the Student Judicial Services. They were holding a session to determine if Paul would be expelled and physically removed from the university. A number of professors were to testify. Patty and I were the only students scheduled to appear. A rumor went around that we were very "brave" to be willing to appear before the tribunal because Paul had threatened to kill us. I really hate it when I hear how brave I am being because that tends to suggest that I am doing something very stupid. 
   I recounted the incidents that led up to the fist fight. When I was finished, Paul received permission to inquire. He said, "At the outset, they asked if you know me and you said you did. How do you know me? What do you mean by that?"
    I explained that the word "know" was intended in the colloquial sense rather than the philosophic way. 
    He had no further questions.
    I was excused.
    The vote was fast and unanimous. Paul Canker was expelled.
    I never saw him again.
    Every time there is a shooting at a school or some public display of violence, I flash back to that scenario with Paul. He was nuts. He may not have been clinically psychotic. He was, however, crazy as a shit house rat, as a soup sandwich, as a screen door on a submarine, or as a pay toilet in a diarrhea ward. Rather than responding in kind to his violence, we should have gotten him some kind of help. But we were scared. We were scared because he was weird, different, crazy. Being scared, we didn't care to help him. We only wanted to make him go away. To that end, we were successful. We passed our problems on to some other group of people, a group that may not have been as lucky as we were. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

BARETTA AND THE OAS

    Day of the Jackal: Four of five stars.
    Busting: Two of five stars. 
    This is true. On August 22, 1962, a group called the OAS (Secret Army Organization) made an assassination attempt on French President Charles De Gaulle, whom they believed had betrayed France by giving up Algeria to Algerian nationalists. Near dusk De Gaulle and his wife were riding from the Elysee Palace to Orly Airport. As his black Citroen DS sped along the Avenue de la Liberation in Paris at 70 miles per hour, twelve OAS gunmen opened fire on the car. A hail of 140 bullets, most of them coming from behind, killed two of the president's motorcycle bodyguards, shattered the car's rear window and punctured all four of its tires. Though the Citroen went into a front-wheel skid, De Gaulle's chauffeur was able to accelerate out of the skid and drive to safety, presumably thanks to the car's superior suspension system. De Gaulle and his wife kept their heads down and came out unharmed.
    We see the recreation of this in the first few minutes of the 1971 Fred Zinnemann movie The Day of the Jackal
    This is one hell of a movie. 
    Edward Fox gives a chiller performance in the title role of the man hired by the OAS to assassinate De Gaulle. You won't recognize anyone else in this film because all the actors here are consciously understated, a facet of their character's personalities which oddly adds to the mounting suspense. Indeed, this may be the most understated thriller ever made. There's no imposed commentary about the propriety of the actions committed by the French authorities or by their enemies--this is not a class in comparative politics. This is a an historical film. And that's a chancy approach to take because, while it does add to our horror at the building of the conspiracy itself, we are given no sense as to whether the conspirators were or were not "justified" in their plans, just as we get no indication (outside whatever knowledge we may bring to the party) as to De Gaulle's liberation of Algeria. The French President was a very complex individual and, short of an eight-hour documentary, there was really no way the filmmaker here could have told the viewers everything they needed to know. 
    On the other hand, that would have been a different film altogether and The Day of the Jackal is really about the brilliance of treachery. The Jackal is an Englishman who goes about his work of putting into place an admittedly smart operation with a lack of surface passion which, again, adds to the horror of what may result. Likewise, the Inspector (Tony Britton), who must prevent the killing, works with equal dutiful thrust to apprehend the bastard. Both of these men are actually simply employees in a grand design of global politics and they know it. To combat that self-awareness, both men develop a certain disdain for their employers, one which we in the audience latch onto at every opportunity. As despicable as the Jackal may be, he is genuinely morally superior to his backers, just as Inspector Thomas makes fools of the pomposity of the French Parliament and indeed of De Gaulle himself.
    This is an innervating film that ranks among the greatest spy thrillers of the 1970s. 
    Tonight's other film is every bit as fascinating and for some of the same reasons. Busting (1974) stars Elliott Gould and Robert Blake as two idealistic vice cops in Los Angeles who come up against some fairly rancid characters as they attempt to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, despite the corruption that surrounds them. This is significant because--despite the very unfortunate homophobia that occasionally spews from Gould's mouth--this movie brings out the reality that there are among us people who just want to do a good job and are often thwarted by the very people whose job it is supposed to be to allow a good job to happen by getting out of the way. 
    However different the off-screen associations are between the two actors, their friendship in this film is never questioned and those of us who are--as am I--suckers for a buddy movie will find this film very satisfying. 
    There's also a certain weary cynicism that creeps into the minds of these two which will be familiar to fans of mid-1970s cop movies. And the ending is worth the price of the tickets in and of itself. 
    I had watched an interview with Blake just a few days before seeing this movie. He looked good for all his troubles and was openly hostile to the pretentious fool who was asking him loaded questions. Blake has always been a beautiful loser to his fans and he still knows it. That got me to thinking that it might be fun to watch this period piece and I'm glad I did. It's great to see the two men bounce lines off one another like friendly handball enthusiasts. Their rebellion against the men at the top is calm and cocky, loose and strong. Busting is a weird film because we've come to see Blake and Gould as far too anti-establishment for their roles and that itself is part of the fun of watching this movie. Is it brain surgery? Nope. Is it worth your time? Absolutely. Is it better than Serpico? Yeppers. 
Philropost

Friday, August 24, 2012

DISGRUNTLED

disgruntled employees
    
   The adjective that serves as the title of this entry requires no noun to modify. The word "employee" is so often joined in the mass-mind as to conjure up a gun-wielding psychopath intent on killing everyone upon whom he has projected his inferiority that even with the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado and today's shooting in New York City, we simply shake our heads and tisk. 
    Companies typically put a lot of thought into managing the disgruntled. Companies fear the bad-mouthing the disgruntled do to customers, to other employees, and to prospective new hires. They fear theft, sabotage, damage to the brand, loss of productivity, theft, and the escape of secrets. They also fear a more violent form of retribution. 
    When large companies prepare for what they euphemistically refer to as a downsizing, they commonly employ additional security provisions. Seminars in dealing with the disgruntled are as common as getting rich with real estate in your spare time. What is seldom addressed is creating an environment where people don't become pissed off in the first place. The nature of business these days, where the average college graduate is now expected to hold a total of seven different careers in his or her work life, is to "deal with" rather than prevent. As a result, these days we get to deal with a lot of shootings by a lot of the disgruntled.
    Even though I personally have no use whatsoever for guns, to argue that tougher gun controls would necessarily prevent the kind of violence we witnessed today in NYC is simply untrue. New York has among the strictest weapons laws in the country. It might be better to work on developing a bit of courage instead. What kind of courage? I'm talking about the kind of courage required to step up and propose some changes in the structural culture that reinforce a cheapening of life. 97,000 people are shot in America every year. 31,000 of these people die. That is not a reflection on access to guns. That is a reflection on access to hate. One of the aspects of culture that makes it easy to hate is isolation. Another is depersonalization. And the most common is a total lack of respect.
    When we work in offices or warehouses or wherever with the scientific management of labor in place, we are going to find ourselves isolated from the parts of the job that come both before and after we do our part. To an extent, this is the assembly-line approach to work, where a disc appears on a conveyor belt, we tighten a screw and the damned thing disappears around the corner where someone we never see paints it blue.That isn't much different from, say, a call center wherein each employee labors within a pod or cubicle, hearing the voices of others, perhaps, but seldom seeing or directly interacting with them. But even in a presumably open environment, such as a box department store, the very abundance of people can serve to reinforce feelings of separation. Add to this the typical favoring of the more gregarious employees by management or owners and you are adding torture to the mind of a budding sociopath. 
    Depersonalization has been all the rage in the workplace for a long time now. Employees are referred to in meetings as Full Time Equivalents, or FTEs. Beyond this, their contributions are often hidden and are typically intangible. To return to the call center example, how does a customer service representative measure the quality of his or her day? The answer comes in a series of monthly statistics upon which the person is rated: average speed of answer, call duration, number of calls handled, absence of complaints, and so on. This employee cannot go home and show a spouse a picture of what he or she has produced. The employee can only say "I handled ten thousand calls last month with an average of seventy-two seconds per call."
    "What does that mean?"
    "Fuck if I know."
    In or out of the workplace, it's pretty clear that we all have a lot of hostility for one another. From the motorist who sneers as he splashes mud on the dress of a woman standing on the curb to the executive who spits on the protester outside his building, we increasingly perceive one another as Us and Them, the former getting smaller all the time and the latter growing exponentially. Add to this a society where it really is relatively easy to lay hands on vicious weaponry and we are just asking for trouble.
    So today when, as with so many days recently, we shake our heads and indifferently tisk at the stories coming out of New York, let us take a moment or two to risk an harassment complaint and put out arms around that disgruntled person out there. Let's take maybe a minute to smile at a stranger, or tell a sad kid that we understand, even if we don't completely. After all, what kind of world do we want?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

SHOOTING UP

    
    One of the reminders of why I watch very little television came bouncing out of the set and ricocheting across my consciousness this morning as I watched in horror as the local propaganda outlet's morning nonsense team broadcast a report about someone called Prince Harry repeatedly and with some sense of intoxication showing a bit of butt cheek on camera. Upon seeing this alleged report, I did what I usually do: I stood, lifted my breakfast bowl over my head, and threw my meal of cream of wheat and rusty nails across the room where even now its contents continue to drip along the face of the tele-screen. 
    I have some news of my own to report. That news is this: I do not give a blue-bellied fuck about the so-called royal family! 
    The last time any news of significance came about the Majesties was when Princess Diana was murdered. That was very sad. Elton cried on camera. That's how we knew it was a big deal. Seriously, she was apparently a great person who cared very much about social issues and was in turn treated rather badly by the Royal Family and then when she died a bunch of stinking maggot journalists stood on the hood of her car and snapped pictures. It's too bad somebody wasn't there to do the same to Mike Wallace. 
    What Diana knew and the idiot media did not was that famous people with a social conscience sometimes have the decency to lend their images to horrible global events that otherwise might not get the coverage that is their due, such as land mines and starving children. 
    What have any of the active members of the Queen of England and her monastic minions done for society except to pretend to be rebels while sucking up the spotlight as if they were celebrity moths? Not a goddamned thing.
    And yet William, Harry and the whole family of drunken fops need only scratch themselves below the waist to receive in turn media exposure that far outpaced the recent landing of a craft on Mars, something which, unlike some over-privileged reprobate with insufficient packaging, actually stands a chance of having an impact on the lives of actual people. 
    As frequent readers of these glow-in-the-dark pages have come to expect, we now bring you an interesting juxtaposition of detail
   Lisa Ann and I live in a decent house. Near us there are some homes that appear quite expensive, while also near us are some of which it would be polite to say they are a bit run-down. One of the latter is a prime candidate for this month's Shooting Gallery centerfold. It has no doors in the doorways, no windows in the window sills, no fence along the perimeter. But, hey, it has a small sign out front to scare away trouble. The sign says No Trespassing. I watched a guy urinate on that sign this morning as I drove by with the windows rolled and the doors locked.
    Let's be clear. The house I'm describing is not a crash pad for the homeless. It is not a place that has fallen into disrepair. It has not been taken over by careless tenants. It is an abandoned structure that provides easy access and effortless escape, shade in the day, darkness at night, no shortage of walls upon which to recline as one plucks a layer of skin, jabs a vein, releases the rubber and rolls back in wide-eyed ecstasy as the rush of heroin deluges the brain and chest with its mighty rivers of freedom. 
    This is not news. Some spoiled, pampered nonentity waltzing naked in a hotel--that's news. Kids walking home from school by a heroin den--that's just depressing stuff that no local advertiser wants to follow on the morning propaganda show. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MEMORY GREMLINS

    
    As the charcoal-voiced Rod Serling used to say, "Submitted for your consideration," I commend to you something pulled together by a person named Ron Slatter called Our Nostalgic Memories. His is a blog/website, but funny enough I actually prefer the promotional Facebook page that links to it, one you can observe right here. On these magical pages you will witness sea monkeys, two-wheelers from 1968, portable record players, a roller coaster ride caled the Cyclone, Quisp Cereal, S&H Green Stamps, Kai Karate After Shave (which came complete with a set of self-defense instructions to protect you from the women you presumably wanted to attract--take that, Axe!), STP stickers, Easy-Bake ovens, and a million other occasionally embarrassing examples of the consumer culture that immediately preceded the one we so often rail against in these here electro-pages. It's funny as ice cream in your panty hose and twice as shocking. 
    I had apparently forgotten most of these hilarious and (admittedly) nostalgic items from childhood, including the box of King Edward cigars I had stored beneath my bed in case of emergencies, along with a plastic bottle of Elmer's Glue and my seven-foot-long Polaris submarine which, while not firing genuine nuclear warheads, did scare the hell out of the neighbor's cats. And while this genuinely marvelous page of memories will have you tripping back to an earlier time of ease and sanctity, there are a few activities missing from this fuselage of wonder.
    Such as? Well, one thing we use to do in my neighborhood was to take a set of pool room darts and tape match sticks to the points so that the head of the wooden sticks would rest parallel to the tips of the darts. Then we would toss them high into the air and laugh as they landed on the pavement, instantly catching fire. Totally harmless, yet a break from the painful monotony of suburbia.
    Something else we enjoyed in my early teen years was building workable model rockets launched with M-80 engines. These bad boys would launch about a mile into the air, then put out the plastic capsule to release the parachute tucked inside and drift harmlessly back to the planet, usually to fall upon some angry resident's rooftop. On occasion we would catch a spider or cricket and pop in into the capsule before launch. If the insect survived, we freed it, but not until after bestowing upon it the fame of scientific majesty that was its due. 
    And there was also lying in the sun on the back patio while the folks were at work. God, how I used to love that. I'd get my list of chores done as early as possible, then saturate my skin with Coppertone goo, grab the portable radio, tune it to 12:30 AM (WCOL) or I forget the call-numbers WNCI-FM and groove to the most embarrassing load of rubbish as if it were played by the children of Mozart. By the time I reached high school years, I was solidly into the heavy stuff, like The Stooges, and even some abrasive jazz saxophone mess by Albert Ayler, who literally could clear a room of customers in less than two minutes. Jeez, I loved the summer.
    This was all before days of mindless boozing, womanizing, and debasing myself in a million horrible ways. This was before all the stupidity of Responsibility took over, which, if you haven't noticed, is kind of essential but only if you remember that you will one day be dead and it might be nice to look back on a life where you didn't hurt other people while having a good time. This was before priorities got totally screwed up. This was when all the idiotic things that we as grown-ups concern ourselves with took over, such as What Car Shall I Buy and Is Our House Really What We Want and Junior Says He Needs Money For Drugs Honey How Much Can We Afford? 
    I have found something of a way to circumnavigate all this middle class morality without having to become abjectly impoverished or stinkingly wealthy. And none of it involves buying a bunch of crap. I just take a moment to think about the people in my life who have always meant so much to me, whether they are in Columbus, Chillicothe, Cincinnati, Boston, Tampa, San Diego, or even here in Phoenix. I think of these gloriously inspiring people and I bring them into myself, right into the heart area, and I walk around with them there all day. It's incredible! My skin smoothes out, my hair gets thicker, my eyes sparkle, my nose crinkles, and my mouth laughs--a lot.
   If it takes going to a webpage to get back in touch with a time that actually was not always that simple and which was often filed with a lot of pain, so be it. If the memories on Ron's pages crack you up, good deal. That's that idea. But I gotta tell you: the real pleasure is the people. I love the ones I carry around. Here's hoping you do as well. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

FILM CHARCOAL

Jean Seberg

Both movies: Five of five stars.    
We have here another Saturday night double feature, this time in glorious B&W, which is black and white, for you kiddies out there in cyber land. But these two films aren't the typical washed out junk your grandpa catches on TCM. Aw, hell no! These are two down-right kick-ass mind blowers that'll leave you just as scarred and scared as an alley cat coming up out of a cesspool drain with a bulldog on his ass. The first one is some kite-flying seriously twisted thriller and the second one, well, it's kind of arty, that's true, but you'll like it anyway if only because the woman is so hot she'll melt your brain before you even have a chance to think dirty.
    Five Minutes to Live (1961) stars Johnny Cash as kind of a combination of Edward G. Robinson, Paul Muni and James Cagney if all three of them had spent sack time with Charles Starkweather, which is to say he is so incredibly bad that no amount of mourning will ever make you worry about poor old Johnny again. His role, and the whole damned film, for that matter, was written by the sensational Cay Forrester (who years later I incorrectly assumed was the focus of the otherwise tepid Finding Forrester, even though it turned out to be Sean Connery instead), who had been featured in a wild number of low budget drive-in flicks since way back in 1943 when she hit the screen in Blazing Guns. And, no, you don't want to bother checking that one out, although I promise that you'll have tombstone nightmares if you dare to peek in at Five Minutes to Live
   Vic Tayback hires desolate Johnny to help him pull off a smart bank job. Johnny likes the idea and shoots his girlfriend in the throat just to prove it. Dangling Larynx John shows up at the bank VP's house and holds the Mrs hostage while Tayback shakes down the suit back at the bank. If you think you saw this same idea years later in 1974's Peter Fonda gyp Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, you're right, except here the terror is real and not played for laughs. What it is played for is a timely attack on suburbia, with all its schedules, PTA meetings, porcelain, and little boys who look like Opie Taylor, who actually is in the movie. Johnny Cash is one-and-a-half scary mofos and he plays the role almost as well as he sings at Folsom, which is to say pretty damned well.  Tayback is understated and authentic and Cay Forrester, who plays the hostage wife, well, she sure wrote a dandy screenplay, let's put it that way.
    This movie is more anti-establishment than a whole decade's worth of Jefferson Airplane albums and mocks bourgeois values better than old Truffaut himself.  
    To my surprise, this movie is now in the public domain, so you should be able to see it for free. If all this isn't enough to twiddle your blood up to a boil, here's a scene from the film in question.
    Speaking of Truffaut, he had an interesting idea for a movie that later was made into Breathless (1960), but it took the equally brilliant Jean-Luc Godard to write the screenplay and bring it to the world. A lot of people who write for magazines with the word "cinema" in the title say that Breathless was the first movie in what became the French New Wave. That's probably correct. But the big news is that the tense little comedy (that's what I call it, okay? A tense little comedy) holds up every bit as well as the day it was finally released after years of being banned in Italy because it was too dirty. Anyone who's ever seen Sasha Grey in action will wonder what all the fuss was about, and yet I have to tell you that Jean Seberg, with that tantalizing page-girl haircut and slightly too thick thighs just about makes me want to snigger at the Playboy Channel and strip nekked doing a freeze-frame on the remote every time I see her in the sack with Jean-Paul Belmondo. The latter actor plays Michel, a genuinely weird young car thief who kills a policeman while fleeing and with all the casualness of a summer day in Paris hooks up with Patricia (Seberg), imagining himself as Bogart and so out of touch with reality that he doesn't even get upset when Pat turns him in.           The plot of this film isn't the point, though. The point is the way the film was made, with shots of empty streets becoming filled with people, with the actor's reactions to puzzling tragedies (as when a stranger falls dead out of a car onto the street), and, as you will note once you see the movie, the long hold shot on Seberg in the last few seconds of the picture. 
   This movie is far more than some idiotic Kubrick-styled exploration of the so-called anti-hero. This is about real people, some of them made numb by the sterility around them, to whom the terror of crime comes as a welcome relief from the monotony of safety.                In real life, the FBI did its best to make Seberg's life a living hell because she gave money to the Black Panther Party. You can read from the official documents right here.     Well, that's it for another Saturday night. Hope y'all come back again soon. The projector's getting old, but she still works just fine.

W C FIELDS AND YOU

Philropost
    Stars: One of five.
    There's nothing more potentially uplifting than an old movie about a very long ago film comedian who we presume that everyone misunderstood, especially when that movie stars a tremendous actor, as well as Valerie Perrine. I mean, most of us enjoy, I think it's fair to say, the insights a motion picture may bestow upon us as it delves--even with a certain degree of fictional embellishments--on the strains and tribulations of that funny person's life and times. There was Bob Fosse's Lenny, for instance, the movie about Lenny Bruce that starred Dustin Hoffman instead of George Carlin, who wanted the part very much and should have gotten it. There was Jo Jo Dancer, one of those incredible movies that far too few people have seen, probably because it starred a black guy named Richard Pryor who, no matter what white folks say, was a little too edgy for most lily white assholes, even though I considered him to be nothing less than the conscience of contemporary comedy and the funniest person of the twentieth century. And there was Martin Lawrence's Talkin' Dirty After Dark. And that's about it. Oh, yeah, there have been quite a few movies about stand up comedy, many of them featuring the pathetic likes of that pre-watched up schmuck Adam Sandler and his idiot progeny Seth Rogen. But the best of these movies was Scorsese's King of Comedy
    This paucity and downright lack of great or even good movies about specific people who have made their living making the rest of us laugh put the people in the Chateau Mershon very much in the mood for a 1976 biopic called W. C. Fields & Me. Starring the aforementioned Rod Steiger (something of a childhood hero of mine; think In the Heat of the Night and On the Waterfront, if you need references), and featuring Valerie Perrine as Carlotta, the man's mistress of fourteen years, this promised to be a huge success and rightly should have been except for one thing: It sucked the balls off dead raccoon. 
    The only historic facts the movie got right was that Fields knew how to juggle and was friendly with John Barrymore. That's it. The rest of it is one colossal lie after another. But here again even that might have been tolerable. After all, a movie that came out in 1978 called The Buddy Holly Story, starring Gary Busey, got almost none of the facts right but still managed to capture the feel of the reality and ended up being a fantastic experience for fans and newbies alike. But no, this Arthur Hiller-directed dreck cannot even fall back on that position. It simply inhales the shriveled testicles of long-deceased Procyon lotor
    The movie has no plot. It has chronology. These are not the same thing.
    It has no storyline, which is also not the same thing as plot. 
    It has no relevance to this or any other time in history.
    It besmirches, without cause, many people who are not around to defend themselves.
    It does not allude in any way to the reason that someone unfamiliar with the person whose name appears in the title might care about that person.
    It features Valerie Perrine who may well be a very nice person but should never be confused with someone who can act.
    It has no script. 
    It was directed by Arthur Hiller. I hate criticizing old people who are probably about ready to pass away, but then again I'm not the one whose tombstone will make reference to Love Story, The Americanization of Emily, or National Lampoon's Pucked, three ugly omens if ever such thing existed. 
    Did I mention that Valerie Perrine was in this movie?
    The movie does not contain one intentional laugh device.
    It does not have the decency to contain inadvertent laugh-getters.
    The movie features Jack Cassidy as John Barrymore.
    The movie features Valerie Perrine. She played Honey Bruce in the movie Lenny. This is not that movie. 
   This movie is not even redeemed by calling itself a joke. This movie inhales gonads from masked woodland creatures. 
    The best thing that can be said of this movie is that there are a couple of early scenes that feature Bernadette Peters. She's an actor. But even here, Hiller lets her get away with some of the most bumbling bullshit ever to make it to the scene.
    This is far and away the best scene in the movie.      Nothing else comes close.     Hiller makes the mistake of thinking that showing Fields to be a misanthrope will somehow lead the viewer to pity the man when his world falls apart. That would have been remotely possible if Steiger had been allowed or encouraged to actually display even one example of human emotion. Instead we get a self-deluding drunkard who is not redeemed by any other qualities.      Even Valerie Perrine deserved a better movie than this.    

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I'M TRUMBO!

Philropost
    Stars: Four of five.
    Their names have shadowed into crystalline mist, vanishing into the morning sunrise. Yet, on some of the quieter dawns, we can still hear the whispered screams: Bertolt Brecht. John Garfield. Herbert Biberman. Lester Cole. Albert Maltz. Adrian Scott. Samuel Ornitz. Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr. John Howard Lawson. Alvah Bessie. Dalton Trumbo. Twelve names in all. Brecht answered HUAC's questions, then fled to Europe. Garfield was never seriously considered, despite having been a member of the Group Theatre. The remaining Hollywood names became grouped as one: The Hollywood Ten. The most celebrated of these was Dalton Trumbo. 
    HUAC was the House un-American Activities Committee, a group of some of the members of the 83rd U.S. Congress who, in 1947, began investigating--along with the diabolic head of the Motion Pictures Industry Council Roy Brewer--members of the Hollywood community, particularly those whose work was important enough to cause their political affiliations to be of concern to the committee.
    Friendly witnesses such as Elia Kazan decided to name names. What names? The names of people they knew or suspected to be members of the Party. Usually the question would come like this: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party? The reason this question was so problematic was that if the person being asked it were to say yes, then the follow-up question would be: Who else do you know in that capacity? and that was a question none of the Ten wanted to answer. Rather than seeking a Fifth Amendment remedy to the question, the Ten relied on the First Amendment, believing that their right to freedom expression and concomitant right to join together in private were protected under the first addendum to the Constitution. The Supreme Court felt otherwise and the Ten were found guilty of contempt of Congress. 
    A lot of good works have been made about this despicable time in post-war America. None have hit the point as well as the book Naming Names by Victor Navasky and certainly no film has captured the horrors of this period as well as Trumbo (2007). Regarding the book, the best review ever written about it comes from Alvah Bessie, which you can read here.
    Trumbo, the movie, is an amazing visual document, with no less than nine great actors playing the part of Dalton Trumbo, author of Eclipse and Johnny Got His Gun, and screenwriter for Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, Roman Holiday, The Brave One, Spartacus, Exodus, and Papillon, among many others. They sent this man to prison for Contempt of Congress. When you hear people such as Michael Douglas, Joan Allen, Donald Sutherland, Brian Dennehy, Nathan Lane and Liam Neeson read Trumbo's letters as if they were Trumbo, you will begin to grasp the agonizing horror that was committed against these ten people, against the country of the United States, and against children who--like myself, probably like you--had not even been born at the time. 
    While I would not be so rotten as to betray one line of this film's dialogue and risk robbing from you the opportunity to be blown away by the words and their amazing deliveries, I do think that a couple of quotes from outside the film are in order. These two remarks regard democracy. 
    "Democracy means that people can say what they want to. All the people. It means that they can vote as they wish. All the people. It means that they can worship God in any way they feel right, and that includes Christians and Jews and voodoo doctors as well."
    And:
    "Everybody now seems to be talking about democracy. I don't understand this. As I think of it, democracy isn't like a Sunday suit to be brought out and worn only for parades. It's the kind of a life a decent man leads, it's something to live for and to die for."

It is extremely difficult to watch the last ten minutes of the 1960 version of Spartacus (the first was made in 1913!) without wishing that we could go back in time and say to the men who went to the ranch to arrest the writer: "I'm Trumbo!"
    

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WATCH THE PARKING METERS

    
    The gang and I were watching A Night in Casablanca last night, the Marx Brothers film from 1946, the movie about which there was a fascinating but not altogether true story that Warner Bros, who had made the film Casablanca, attempted to force the Marx Brothers from calling their film what they called it because the studio claimed ownership of the key word. The not really true story went that Groucho Marx then fired off a letter to Warner Bros saying that his comedy team had been using the word "Brothers" longer than Warner had and that they should (a) stop using it, or at least (b) begin spelling it correctly. 
    The movie itself, though, while perhaps not the best effort ever put together by Groucho, Chico and Harpo, still had its share of laughs and the experience of watching these three geniuses got me to ruminating about how here in this country we have a long and noble tradition of hating Nazis, as well as other fascists. If I'm not mistaken, we were active participants in something called World War II from around about 1941 until 1945 and the stated purpose of that global conflict was to kick the shit out of fascism. Just because we lost that particular crusade (yes, I know we defeated the Axis Powers, but that doesn't mean we beat fascism), for years hence the people of the United States have had a strong tendency to oppose fascism because it was an elitist economic system that celebrated what its enthusiasts, such as Benito Mussolini, referred to as the "basic inequality" of human beings; because its various political manifestos encouraged the belief that the so-called Aryan race was superior to all others and that men were superior to women; because it embraced a world view that said the means were justified by the ends; and because of the willingness of its adherents to accept any kind of political behavior so long as they were able to remain psychologically and intellectually anesthetized from the racist barbarism that was its stock and trade. Yes, we were against the fascist philosophy, if it may be called such, and we were quite proud of that fact. And we were reasonably united as a country in our opposition to that disposition. In the movie Frances, recently celebrated here in Philropost, we saw all kinds of subliminal period signs proclaiming that Loose Lips Sink Ships and that we should turn off our headlights on the west coast. We rationed food and gasoline, copper and gold, and it seems that everyone knew somebody who was directly involved in the war effort to kill fascism.
    Whereas today the philosophy as practiced by Franco, Hitler, Mussolini, Tojo, Horthy, Antonescu, Filov, Pavelic and their ilk is considered, at least by some, to be just fine, as hunky dory, okey doke, and a viable alternative to democracy. 
    Since the end of World War II, fascist leaders and their not particularly affable followers have enjoyed their share of fortune. There was Juan Peron in Argentina, Luis Garcia Meza Tejada in Bolivia, Mario Sandoval Alcaron in Guatemala, Hsu Na-Chi in Taiwan, Nick Griffin in the United Kingdom, and the ideological cousins of Wesley Swift here in the United States. 
    Huey Long may or may not have said it, but when fascism comes to America (as it may have already done) it will come in the name of anti-fascism. 
    Since the last days of the second world war, the United States and some of its allies have been as much on the side of the founders of the Third Reich as any Romanian dictator ever was. Before he became Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles helped recruit Nazi generals into the western alliance as a presumed hedge against communism. Project Paperclip brought dozens of Nazi scientists to the United States to form what was then the fledgling enterprise known as NASA. And our Cold War philosophies have found the United States on the side of all manner of neo-fascist regimes from Iran to Nicaragua. 
    And now we are faced with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
    Whoa, hey. Didn't see that one coming, did you?
     From Alma 3: 6 "And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men." Until 1978, black people could not join the Mormon Church. They were perceived to be the wicked descendants of Cain, whereas the whites of America were thought to be the inevitable sons and daughters of Seth. Yikes.
    I am not suggesting that because he is Mormon that Mitt Romney is a racist. I have no idea what his racial views are. I doubt if he even knows who Nelson Mandela is. However, his "I like firing people" stance and his recent selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate indicates that Willard is not particularly in love with poor people and it certainly screams out that he would be right at home with the elitist global view of real politik
    Yet there seems to be little outrage, at least from the arbiters of civilization in the media. It was not all that long ago that the Road Map to Ruin, or whatever the Ryan budget plan was called, was being dissected as that thing that would end Medicare and Social Security, and now, just a year later, the media seems all a-quiver with the widow's peak and the gym workouts that are more than a little reminiscent of the real popularity of Ronald Reagan. (My own blessed grandmother voted for Ronnie because, as she put it, he was so handsome.) People who did not know David Stockman and Milton Friedman from Maynard Keynes and Betty Friedan got themselves all hard and wet over the Gipper and his intellectual cravens, just as people are trying to do with Willard and Benito--I mean Ryan, just as they did with the attractive Barack Obama in 2008. Come one, you don't think Sarah Palin was on the GOP ticket for any other reason than her appearance, do you? Somebody had to get women thinking about something other than the joys of miscegenation. 
    I'd like to see some real ugly motherfucker run for President, someone from a major political party that actually has a chance. I'd like to see someone with the girth of Chris Christie and the face of Dan Boren run for President. Whatever happened to the good old days of fat and hideous-faced politicians like McArthur, Taft, Cleveland, McKinley (after whom a mountain was named, and for no other reason), or even Teddy Roosevelt? Come on, people! Fascists are supposed to be physically unsightly, like Oswald Mosley. That's why your rank and file skinhead is bald, tattooed and unshaven. If the people at the bottom know how to scare others with their physical hideousness, you'd think the leaders could do the same. 
    But then again, that might make them harder to love because with people like my dear old grandma not being able to focus on their superficial aspects, we might actually examine their hatefulness and run the bastards out of town. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING

Philropost
    The Sovereigns maintain that no federal government possesses a legitimate authority over them. They believe themselves to be, at best, subject to the law enforcement of county sheriffs and no one else. This interests me because these typically racist, sexist and otherwise narrow-minded souls often espouse an antipathy to government and corporations that cross over into my own world view, other than the fact that I don't blame all the world's problems on various ethnic groups and instead base my own conclusions upon what I consider the inherent corrupting influence of power itself, in particular economic power. I'm also opposed to gunning down people who attempt to assert their presumptive power over me, whereas some of the sovereigns seem all-too-eager to blow people away at the first provocation. 
    In Page, Arizona, back in June 2011, one William Foust, age 50, got himself mortality wounded by police in that northern Southwestern city when he refused to relinquish the Taser he had used to brutalize his wife. This local businessman had been cited for speeding the previous December and acted out his anti-government rage by fighting the ticket in ways now familiar to courts across this country: by filing senseless motions, refusing to disclose his date of birth, verbally challenging the judge's right to pass judgment, etc. A member of the Republic for the united (sic) States of America (RuSA), a group that believes the original U.S. Constitution was abandoned in 1871 and was replaced by one that made the citizens slaves of Corporate America, Foust joins a list of Sovereigns killed in battles with police in the states of Arkansas, South Carolina, Ohio, Idaho and New Hampshire. 
    The roots of this right wing anti-government movement reach beyond the idiotic Turner Diaries (the ones that so inspired the killers of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg, as well as mass murderer Timothy McVeigh). They actually stretch back to the 1970s and something called the Posse Comitatus. According to Daniel Levitas, who spent eight years in the midwest researching the origins of this type of hate group, "The Posse Comitatus, which is Latin for 'power of the county,' was originally founded by William Potter Gale in 1970. But the movement did not gain significant momentum until Gale was able to join his Christian Identity beliefs [a racist theology identifying Jews as the literal progeny of Satan and blacks as subhuman] with the growing anti-tax movement in the United States.
    "The first phase, when Gale developed all these theories about 'citizens' government' and the Posse Comitatus, was in the early to mid-1970s. In reality, Gale's ideas were really nothing more than verbal flourishes used to disguise old-fashioned vigilantism.
    "The second phase started in the late 1970s, when Gale and his allies were able to take advantage of the agricultural crisis brewing in rural America and use it to disseminate Posse ideology throughout the farm belt.
    "The third phase was after the Posse really came into public view in 1983, with the killing of two federal marshals by [Posse adherent and tax protester] Gordon Kahl in North Dakota. After that, everybody knew the Posse was trouble with a capital T. The negative publicity it got, combined with aggressive state and federal prosecutions, dealt a significant blow to Posse recruitment.
    "At around the same time, you also had a whole series of liberal groups spring up whose goal was to organize farmers in a positive way to combat the economic crisis and to dispel the notion that there was an international Jewish banking conspiracy behind the farm crisis [as the Posse argued].
    "Gale died on April 28, 1988. Coincidentally, by the next year or so both the Posse and the liberal farm groups had largely collapsed. Farm foreclosures had continued and hundreds of thousands of farmers had been driven off the land throughout the 1980s. There were just fewer farmers to organize. 
If you look at the philosophy of today's militias, common-law courts and county supremacy movement, it is absolutely inseparable from the original concepts set forth by Gale almost 30 years ago. What the Posse has done to survive between then and now has been to be very flexible and to inject those ideas into whatever social conditions exist and use those conditions opportunistically."
    The biggest thing that motivates the Sovereigns is taxes. They do not want to pay them. In part, this is because they tend to be money grubbers, as the homes in the video below will indicate. But mostly the reason they hate taxes is because the notion of transfer payments (Medicare and Social Security being the two largest officials forms) is anathema to them. They believe only "mud-people" benefit from the source of taxation and--being racist--they are happy to use anti-government leftist ideology to reinforce their rebelliousness against people they consider foreign.
    While Philropost is not typically a forum to discuss local violent crimes, the link up with these stories is that here in Maricopa County--and just maybe where you live as well--the Sheriff is held in extremely high esteem by Sovereigns and other uber-patriot groups. Here is a segment from the organizers of a recent pro-Joe Arpaio rally in the upscale neighborhood of Fountain Hills. "As many as 200 activists, some chanting 'go Joe, go Joe,' rallied in Arizona to support Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is facing a federal racial-profiling probe for his police sweeps against illegal immigrants. 'Sheriff Joe is one of the very few guys who will enforce the immigration laws across this nation,' said Randy Hatch, who used a megaphone to rally supporters of Arpaio at a park in this northeast Phoenix valley city. 'Every constitution and country that has ever existed has had to have sovereign borders,' he said to cheers from the crowd, some clutching placards reading 'Sheriff Joe keeps us safe' and 'illegal is illegal.'"      The name of the organization? The Minutemen Project.     After all, there's a reason the birther movement--of which Arpaio is a spokesman--is so important to these people. It is the one concept around which nationality is identified: one's place of birth. And God knows that facts are not going to get in the way of the hatred that fuels these imbeciles. Arpaio has kept us safe? Safe from what, one wonders. If a black person were to show his face in Fountain Hills, he'd be tarred, feathered, and hung from a tree. If that's safety, you can shove it up your racist asses.      In the coming national election, we are seeing right wing politicians and their corporate backers use the emotions of these so-called patriots to mobilize their deranged base. The base is not made up of the typical mercenary degenerate corporatistas of the . Bush years. This time out the base is being used by those pirates to shut out dissent in favor of the federal government. If you are pro-Obama, the argument goes, you must be a fucking communist who wants to give the hard-earned (probably inherited) money to a bunch of criminalized foreigners, such as the President himself. If that sounds just as paranoid a theory as the ones perpetrated by the Sovereigns, then how do we explain the presence of so many of these hate groups throughout America? According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Texas has forty-five known anti-government hate groups, ranging from Aryan Nations 88 to White Camelia Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The state of California hosts eighty-four such organizations, including the Western Hammerskins (a skinhead group) and the anti-immigrant Save Our State. The rough house state of New Jersey boasts Bloud and Honour USA, as well as three branches of the Aryan Terror Brigade. And my home state of Ohio has a Chillicothe branch of the American National Socialists Party (Nazis) as well as the Christian Identity group Crusaders for Yahweh.      It's scary as hell out there, friends.