Thursday, May 28, 2015


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

Saturday, May 23, 2015


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

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

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

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


Friday, May 22, 2015


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

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

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

Thursday, May 21, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


  Regrettably necessary introductory statement:
  While much of the rest of the national media pretends to debate whether the conscious efforts at destabilizing the Middle East (in the form of the preemptive war against Iraq) was a mistake instead of an escapade in mass murder, we here at Philropost continue with our local look at state governors and why they run. As you recall, last time we looked at Robert Bentley of Alabama
  We begin our next exploration with Canada's friendly neighbor to the northwest.

Hey Chel, you know it's kinda funny
Texas always seems so big
But you know you're in the largest State in the Union
When you're anchored down in Anchorage.
                      --Michelle Shocked, "Anchored Down in Anchorage," from her album Short Sharp Shocked, from 1988. 

Alaska: Bill Walker (I). As an attorney he co-founded the law firm of Walker Richards LLC * and served as general counsel for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority. Annual salary: $145,000.
   Walker appears to want to portray himself as a liberal Republican in Independent's clothing. He had to carve out some kind of position for himself in the 2014 campaign and that was the only wiggle room available. After his election, he made three appointments to the Alaska Gasline Port Authority that caused some people to question his supposed liberal credentials. What is the AGPA? They describe themselves as "A municipal port authority. Current members are the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the City of Valdez. [Their] highest priority is to bring economical energy to Alaska by exporting excess gas to the Asian market." The idea is to operate a pipeline from the north part of the state to the southern part and to throw in some fractionation for natural gas exploration and rather than use the proceeds to ease the drain on domestic reserves, simply sell as much as possible to Asia. 
  In May 2015, Governor Walker signed into law something called the Arctic Policy Bill. According to sponsors of the bill, the new law promotes economic and resource development, addresses the infrastructure and response capacity gap in the Arctic region, supports healthy communities, and strengthens a state-based agenda for science and research in the Arctic. What sounds good about the legislation is this: "Alaskans recognize the risks that come with a climate change and emerging threats to ecosystems, as well as increased maritime activity, but are optimistic that the skillful application of expertise, coupled with circumpolar cooperation, will usher in a new era of economic and resource development that will improve the quality of life for residents of the state." 
   The Obama Administration had wanted to set aside 12 million acres of the Alaska Wildlife Refuge as protected wilderness. Predictably, oil company shills don't give a damn about polar bears and sea otters, much less global warming. They care about sucking as much pie out of the pan as possible before someone else gets his face into it. 
   God help us all because the United States is now in charge of the Arctic Region and that is not healthy--not that it would make any difference if Russia were the boss. The Arctic region is the fastest warming place on Earth. Confounding this danger is the fact that as the permafrost melts, it releases vast amounts of previously frozen carbon back into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide which in turn accelerates further warming
   The Republican Governors Association (RGA) funded an independent group called Citizens Against Walker late in the general 2014 election. The RGA-backed group led by former state Republican Party chair Randy Ruedrich received three donations totaling $1.3 million from October 20 to October 28. These funds were used to purchase ad space on local TV stations. Walker's campaign was supported by Alaskans Opposing Group, a union-funded group that received $595,000 in contributions as of October 25, 2014. Walker himself donated $176,000 to his campaign. He also received six-digit support from the Alaska Democratic Party. 
   Support by the state Democrat apparatus is one of several strange components to the 2014 Alaska gubernatorial election. Bill Walker, who ran as an Independent, had earlier that same year considered himself a Republican. After switching his affiliation designation, he picked as his running mate a Democrat named Byron Mallott, a man who had wanted to be governor too, but who settled for the position of Lieutenant Governor. Walker's opponent in the general election was Sean Parnell, former running mate of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. One might have expected the tea party and Palin to support Parnell. However, the former vice-presidential candidate threw her support behind Walker, claiming that her former ally Parnell had caved into the interests of big oil. 
   Indeed, nothing rancid jumps out when looking into Walker's campaign contributions, as reported by Project Vote Smart. The biggest donations from an Alaskan industry to the Walker campaign was the industry known as Bill Walker. 
   Walker calls Alaska "ground zero" for climate change, yet he supports a pipeline for natural gas. He does not support gay marriage, gun control, or the Affordable Care Act. 
   Any Alaskan Governor will address the issues--political, economic, environmental--of the petroleum industry and its impact on the people of the state, as well as the ramifications for the rest of the planet. While it would be a gross exaggeration to call Walker an environmentalist, he may turn out to have been less damaging to the universe than his opponent.
   As to the man's motivation for being governor? Probably he felt it was the next logical progression in his career. Having been involved with the Port Authority and having been with a law firm that catered to the city of Valdez, Walker was determined to win. 
  But a Palin endorsement? Scary. 
Walker: "Our state is this big."

   *The "Richards" in the law firm coincidentally was Craig Richards, who became Alaska's Attorney General in the 2014 election.


   Why would anyone spend millions of their own dollars--and millions of other people's as well--in order to be elected governor of a state? What the hell is wrong with these people? 
  The more cynical members of the Philropost staff have been shouting all day that these forty-four men and six women governors were foisted into their present positions by the officers and investors of the companies for which they were previously employed, no doubt in exchange for carving up a landscape economically favorable to those corporations, a la North Carolina's Pat McCrory and Duke Energy. The more idealistic bottom-feeders in the office insist that the cynics are simply jealous and wouldn't suffer any harm from putting in a hard day's work once in a while. 
   As usual, it falls to me to separate the curds from the whey, the wheat from the chaff, the honey from the mustard, the ibuprofen from the hydrocodone. So I burned the midnight tobacco and tossed back gallons of carbonated beverages while cracking the whip on the simpering nabobs of nihilism in order to get them to compile the research that follows. In each case, we have listed the name of the state, the name of the governor (as of today's date), a brief summary of that person's pre-political work history, his or her gubernatorial salary, relevant financial contributions to the campaign, and anything else that felt pertinent in terms of establishing conclusions, assumptions, random speculations and the occasional offhanded smear. None of the unkind statements should be interpreted as reflecting our feelings about the residents of a given state. We love all Americans and are happy to forgive them for they know not what they do. After all, it's not as if free elections exist in any region or territory of this country. The elections, as we shall see, are anything but free. 
   Tonight, then, we begin, as we always must, with Alabama. Think of Alabama as the kid who was invariably picked first in intramural basketball, not because he had the best hook shot, but because his dad was the head coach. Think of Alabama, if you prefer, as the kid who sat in the front of the class, not because he was an enthusiastic student, but because the class was arranged in alphabetical order. Think of Alabama as a beautiful state with a fantastic musical tradition, most especially Muscle Shoals, as Ronnie Van Zant reminded us all:

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers*
and they've been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue, now how 'bout you?

Alabama: Robert Bentley (R). Owned a series of dermatology clinics under the name Alabama Dermatology Associates throughout the south. Annual salary: $119,950. In something more than a magnanimous gesture, Bentley does not accept his salary and insists he will continue to refuse to do so until his state's unemployment rate drops to 5.4% (See Alabama Governor's website.) 
   At present, Bentley's erstwhile company, the ADA, offers the following services: Botox, chemical peels, cryotherapy, excisional surgery, Juvederm, laser hair removal, Mohs surgery, photorejuvenation, sclerotherapy, and ultherapy, the latter billed as a nonsurgical way to lift, tighten and tone the skin. 
   In April 2013, Alabama was one of six states that said they would not enforce provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act. The previous month, Bentley wrote that Washington, rather than state regulators, should be responsible for enforcing policies in Alabama to comply with the requirements of the ACA. Bentley also rejected other parts of the law, including setting up a state-run health insurance exchange and expansion of Medicaid. 
   Back in 2010, Bentley raised more than $8 million for his campaign for governor, two-and-a-half times what his losing opponent brought in. In 2014, seeking reelection, he convinced more than $7 million to jump into his campaign, out-collecting his opponent by a ratio of 200 to one. With less than one week to go in the general election, Bentley lent $500,000 to his own campaign, a figure that was greater than the entire war chest of his opponent. According to Project Vote Smart, the top industry contributors to Bentley's campaign came from lawyers, lobbyists, hospitals and nursing homes. 
  During Bentley's primary run for his party's nomination for governor (which began in 2013, at a time when his only opponent, a man named Stacey George, had a paltry $45 in his campaign coffers), Governor Bentley received what can only charitably be called an unnecessary $100,000 donation from a supporter named William Doré, the former CEO of an energy company called Global Industries, Ltd. In 2012, Doré gave more than two million dollars to Rick Santorum's super pac. As with any number of millionaires, this fellow gives money to campaigners from both major parties, although, according to Public Integrity, his spending with Republicans is three times greater than with Democrats. 
   What are Bentley's positions on the issues? He is mostly against things. He opposes a woman's right to choose an abortion, the expansion of the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on rich people, stricter limits of political campaign funds, green energy, same-sex marriage, clean air and water regulation, and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. To be fair, Bentley does favor a few things, including gun ownership, free trade agreements, putting God back into public life, and the death penalty. But that's about it. 
   The question remains: What is Robert Bentley's motivation for being governor of the fine state of Alabama? Clearly, what the answer is not is direct financial gain. The consistency of his political positions over the years suggest that he may be an ideologue, a person who takes unambiguous and what might be called extreme stands on issues and does not feel much inclined toward either compromise or conciliation. Certain powerful financial backers love ideologues. The big contributors always know where the candidate or officeholder stands and the politicos seldom appear to realize they are doing the bidding of the donors. You could hook them up to a polygraph machine and inject them with truth serum and they would maintain their loyalty to nothing but their own convictions. When we don't like such people, we call them zealots. When we do like them, we call them committed. Some of them probably should be.

Next time: Alaska, Canada's friendly neighbor to the northwest. 

*Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett, and David Hood--The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Philro: Tonight on "Tell Me When to Laugh," we interview a vast array of contenders for the office of the presidency of these here United States. Introducing the candidates could take up half our airtime, so instead we shall simply proceed with tonight's salient question: Why did the United States invade Iraq? Senator Squirm?

Senator Squirm: Well, sir, I have to good-naturedly object to the form of the question. While we may not exactly have been greeted as liberators when we got there, we did not inject ourselves into the Middle Eastern quagmire for the purposes of launching an invasion. Based on the best information we had at the time--information that came to us from our own intelligence-gathering agencies--we were convinced that Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of nuclear weapons. That man had already helped finance and coordinate the September 11 terrorist attacks on our own soil. We could not sit by idly and wait for the nuclear mushroom clouds to poison our precious bodily fluids. 

Audience chuckles.

Philro: My goodness. That was creative, wasn't it? Senator, as I'm sure you know, your response falls into the category of obfuscation.

Senator Squirm: Really, I'm just a good old boy from the sticks. I don't understand what you're saying.

Philro: For a good old boy, you have quite the prestigious education, Senator. To misquote Julie Brown, "Your B.A. is from Harvard, your M.A. is from Yale. The way this night is going you might just go to jail." 

Audience laughs.

Philro: Suzanne, if I could ask your help here. Please lead the Senator to his glass-enclosed case.

Senator Squirm: I say, this is most inconvenient.

Philro: Yes, of course. Suzanne will be placing you inside our bullet-proof protective glass case and wheeling you out to the front of the Vietnam War Memorial where you will spend three glorious days and nights at our expense so that passersby can see for themselves the true nature of evil in our time. No food, no water, no place to relieve yourself, except publicly inside your temporary new home. Suzanne?

Suzanne: Come along, Senator.

Senator Squirm: Excuse me, is that a gun?

Suzanne: It's my right, Senator, or did you forget how you voted?

Audience applauds.

Philro: Let's see. . .our next candidate is Governor Wifflebottom. Governor, we put the same question to you: Why did the United States invade Iraq?

Governor Wifflebottom: That is an excellent question, one I had hoped we would have the opportunity to address this evening. I think most of us recall the historical context into which our nation had been involuntarily positioned. After eight years of a permissive leadership which allowed for terrorist activities such as the Branch Davidians in Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, the attack at the World Trade Center, our failure to take decisive action against Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as our recalcitrant attitude regarding that emerging band of well-financed activists known as the Taliban, the perception that much of the world had of the United States was that we were a loose-knit collection of mollycoddlers and incompetents. This perception led directly to the instability that made the prospects of nuclear annihilation appear so conceivable to the people of the United States. Americans may be treated as fools, but they are not fools. In the words of George W., "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, won't get fooled again."

Audience makes a mixed sound of hissing and barfing.

Philro: Governor, I am pleased to announce that you have already earned our program's coveted Chutzpah Award for Testicular Overreach. Rita?

Rita: Alligators, boss?

Philro: Indeed. Governor, as you no doubt recollect, with the CATO award comes great responsibility. In your case, Rita will be placing you in a leather truss and dangling you mere inches above the snapping jaws of seven hungry gators, all this conveniently within view of the Lincoln Memorial. We feel it's crucial that all patriotic citizens have the opportunity to see what happens to manipulative fascists in this country. Assuming, of course, that you don't feel this retribution is too mollycoddling?

Governor Wifflebottom: No, it's--

Rita: Let's go, Governor. We all have our duties.

Audience sneers. Governor weeps

Philro: Congressman Walliwally? Are you ready for the question?

Walliwally: As I'll ever be.

Philro: Indeed. Congressman, why did we invade Iraq?

Walliwally: Mindful as I am that no matter what reply I proffer, I may live to regret it--

Philro: Or not.

Walliwally: As you say. If I may, allow me to turn the question around a bit. Would you not say that the world is a safer place with the removal of Saddam Hussein?

Philro: Congressman, we have not gathered here to take up public airtime to harness my opinion.

Walliwally: Haven't the guts to answer, have you?

Philro: If it's the confrontational approach you want, Captain Gashole, so it shall be. Your asinine question may play well with the corporate media, but I paid for these microphones this evening, so if it's a confrontation you want, sir, that is what you shall get.

Audience stands, cheers.

Philro: The issue of the world being "better" or "safer" was never the issue, certainly never the provocation, because there was no provocation. It was a preemptive war. 

Walliwally: We were part of a coalition!

Philro: Interrupt me again, Worm Sack, and I'll turn Suzanne and Rita loose on you.

Walliwally: Sorry.

Philro: Better. The people who wanted the war had been wanting it--begging for it--long before September 2001. They had been sending letters to President Clinton urging U.S. invasions as early as 1995! By they I mean of course, President Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld--each of them with oil and energy connections going back to the original Bush Administration. We were there, you slobbering ghool, to harness the power of disruption. Instability in the Middle East led not only to further consolidation of the leadership of the international petroleum industry, it did wonders for the arms industry and the government contractors, such as Halliburton, which Cheney's connection to was not quite coincidental. It helped solidify the economic hegemony of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. And, to quote from another good songstress, "It was a very good time there for the undertaker." In short, the issue was never what would make the world safer. If that had been the sole determinant, we would have rid ourselves of self-serving parasites such as stand on this stage rather than launching an invasion of Iraq.

Walliwally: Did you call me a ghoul?

Rita: He was being ironic, Congressman.

Walliwally: I apparently failed to detect the irony.

Philro: The irony, chancellor, lies in the double meaning of the word. A ghoul is someone who delights in bloodletting. A ghool, spelled with two o's, is a white person who believes all Muslims are terrorists. In your case, either spelling will suffice.

Walliwally: What award do I win?

Philro: In a fair world, I would lock you in a ten by ten cell with half a dozen of the families of the people for whom you facilitated death. But that wouldn't accomplish anything except to make us all feel better for a few minutes. No, instead, your award will be to march back and forth in front of a Marine recruiting office twelve hours a day for the next week. Of course, Suzanne and Rita will dress you up like a friend of Bin Laden, but you're a tough little weasel. That won't be a problem for you. 

Walliwally: Are you kidding? Those backdoor draftees will kill me!

Philro: Heck, Congressman. Don't be obstinate. You get to choose. March in front of the recruiting center dressed like a member of al-Qaeda or spend two days locked in a room with the relatives of your victims.

Walliwally: Fine. I'll march. But I'm not happy about it.

Audience laughs.

Rita: Boss, it looks as if we're losing our remaining candidates.

Suzanne: Watch 'em run!

Philro: This is why I love live television. Looks like that's all the time we have for tonight. We hope you'll join us next week on "Tell Me When To Laugh" when we ask the members of the other major political party--remember, there's always two--how they rationalize their own complicity. Until then, keep that sack of rotting vegetables handy because you never know when the guy you see locked up in the public square might say to you. . .

Audience in unison: Tell me when to laugh!

Philro: I'm Jonathan Edwards. Good night!

Saturday, May 16, 2015


   Just as CNN fixates its speculations about the sinister causes of missing airlines, I obsess about the films of Orson Welles. When I learned, therefore, that Turner Classic Movies was running Othello and Macbeth last night, I did a bit of a dance right in the center of the pentangle painted in oxblood hues on the basement sepulchre. After all, some ne'erdowells had desecrated our hand-crafted goat heads by painting them pink and draping them with caramel popcorn strings, so one does what one can to maintain the proper mood. Indeed, Iago has an earned reputation as the most evil character in all literature (although I would give the nod to the mother in East of Eden, for that particular honor) and the Scottish play is the most tightly-written tragedy ever imitated in English, as well as one laced with deadly overtones (the actor playing Lady Macbeth died backstage on opening night in 1606; in 1934, four actors played Macbeth in a single week; in 1937, Macbeth had to be postponed for three days after a change in directors and because of the death of Lilian Boylis; in 1954, the portrait of Lilian Boylis crashed down on the bar on opening night--the theory goes that Shakespeare included actual black magic spells in the incantations of the weird sisters).
   Yet it is not of these two feature films that I will write tonight. Instead, I will communicate to your tender mercies something genuinely worthwhile, something which the ages may ignore but which you and I can afford no such luxury--I speak, clean and clear, of All You Need is Cash: The Rutles
   Is this movie, this mockumentary of the PreFab Four, the undisputed king of all comedic portrayals? Is it more fun than listening to the static on your unplugged news channel? Is it the greatest movie of all time? Is it better than being victimized by members of ISIS? 
   No. Yes. No. Yes. 
   I could tell you that the superb genius of this satire of Beatle documentaries involves the inspiration of Eric Idle, who came up with the idea from working on his own BBC show, "Rutland Weekend Television." That would be true. I could say that the theatrical contributions of original "Saturday Night" cast members John Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Gilda Radner contributed to the brilliance of the project. That too would be correct (despite the production credit of the despicable Lorne Michaels, a man who may know his Beatles lore but who likewise has been the single-most counterproductive force in American humor ever since the original cast of "Saturday Night" left, a view to which I have held steadfast since I made the conscious decision to boycott the show after 1982). (Oh, and please spare me the sobbings about how much you ooze over the very mention of the names Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Eddie Murphy, because I already know how great they are, yet wonder why they would have wasted their considerable talents with a fake-auteur such as Michaels or a perpetually lame duck program such as--and I loathe this abbreviation--"SNL.") I could say that the interviews with Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and Ronnie Wood were a lot of fun. That's right. I could tell you that timing had a lot to do with the made-for-television movie's success, seeing as it was released eight years after the break-up of the Beatles and therefore came out at a time when everybody and his sister was trying to cash in on a newfound nostalgia. That would not be true. In fact, upon its release, the show had the lowest ratings of every program aired that week in March 1978. I could argue that the writing of the script was acerbic to the point where it rivals Shakespeare's best couplets and on occasion that statement would have some merit. For example, there is the inspired scene where the narrator has approached a Derek Taylor-type press agent, in this case played by Michael Palin. Discussing the legal problems facing the staff at The Rutles record company, he says: "Suddenly, everyone became amazingly litigious. I remember I'd get up in the morning. Sue someone. Check in the papers that I hadn't been fired. Go to the office. Sue someone. Pick up the morning's writs. Sue the bank. Go out for lunch. Sue the restaurant. Get back in, collect the writs that had been received that afternoon. Read the papers. Phone the papers. Sue the papers. Then go home. Sue the wife."
   I could tell you all of those things and indeed I have. After all, what can you do about it at this late date? But that would be insensitive of both of us, so I shall eschew such unpleasantness.
   The real secret behind the success of the telecast--and this is why those of us to whom a day is not a day unless we begin it by bowing thrice in the direction of Rutland County--is the incredible music of Neil Innes. 
   Innes, late of the Bonzo Dog Band, crammed as many teenage angst inspirations and Beatles song derivatives into every song as each would hold. This is true lyrically, of course, on songs such as "Piggy in the Middle, which recalls "I Am the Walrus," "Piggies," "Hey, Jude," and "Working Class Hero," among others. But it's also accurate musically, even though the similarities are (with one notable exception) are more subtle. So subtle are the connections that more than one listener has been observed whistling his feet and tapping his lips to the tunes well into the next century. 
   Speaking--or, more accurately, writing--of subtleties, the acting of Innes (as Nasty), Idle (as Dirk), Ricky Fataar (as Stig) and John Halsey (as Barry Wom) is simply first rate, nailing nuances with the appropriate level of bite, yet not without considerable affection, a style of love that never dips into phony sentiment. 
   In fairness, it may be that this level of supreme sophistication is beyond the sensibilities of contemporary audiences who have never had anything with this kind of depth exposed to them. In a world where a latter-day Olivia Newton-John such as Taylor Swift can impersonate a mannequin chanteuse and somehow not be the object of constant public ridicule, one wonders that an audience even exists for the likes of Orson Welles. 
   Yet pockets of enlightenment (i.e., fun) still exist out there, thanks in no small part to a certain democratization brought to us in part by the Internet. Folks in their teens and twenties can access video streaming for just a few cents and inadvertently discover what all the excitement is really about. 
Up on the roof

Lonesome George Harrison and Michael Palin

Thursday, May 7, 2015


  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
   You recognize the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. You may even know that the final version did not mirror its predecessors. Regarding the establishment clause, James Madison wrote on June 7, 1789: 
"The Civil Rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, nor on any pretext infringed. No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases."
  Perhaps more to the point for our purposes this evening, Madison's original words about freedom of speech were:
"The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable."
  I'm very fond of that original version because it comes much closer to my own version of how the world ought to work, a version which might best be summed as "Freedom of speech is absolute." So absolute do I consider it to be that I accept the notion that people may take it upon themselves to shout "fire" in a crowded theatre, or even "theatre" in a crowded fire, if they so desire. "Clear and present danger" troubles me not at all. 
   In the words of Andre Gide, please do not understand me too quickly. 
   The intent of this article is to convince you that the extent to which we are willing to grant or seize freedom of expression is not the same thing as our willingness to remain unresponsive to it. 
   In 1978 the National Socialist Party of America announced that they would hold a pro-Nazi demonstration in Skokie, Illinois, home to what was then a considerable number of Holocaust survivors. Understandably, many in the local Jewish community and others elsewhere found this idea reprehensible and attempted to prevent the march. The American Civil Liberties Union initiated a lawsuit and the Nazis were granted permission to demonstrate. At the last moment, the fascists changed their minds and held a small rally at the Federal Plaza in Chicago. 
   The best argument against allowing Nazis to march, or to preventing Pamela Geller and her organization from hosting a Let's Blaspheme Muhammad Cartoon Contest, is that those who have as their ultimate aim the suppression of the free speech of others inherently sacrifice their own right to freedom of expression. According to this reasonable line of thought, Klansmen should not be allowed to burn books they find objectionable in the public square because the act of burning those books is itself a quash on freedom. 
  A more common and therefore less controversial line of reasoning holds that people such as Geller, or Terry Jones, or the Grand Wizard of the KKK indeed have the right to express their twisted speech; they simply should self-censor and opt to not do it out of respect for safety and civility. 
   People who carry signs disparaging the eternal souls of dead soldiers who happened to be gay-- signs intended to provoke and besmirch the very essence of the recently departed--are people of that ilk likely to be inclined toward self-restraint? I suggest that anyone genetically damaged enough to carry such a sign is beyond such considerations as to his or her impact on concepts such as national security, much less public decency.
   But what of someone who to all appearances is a well-educated (or at least well-read), socially conscious, media-savvy individual such as Pamela Geller? Is her thinking so clouded with the steel wool of hatred for the long-and-short-term impact of her actions to penetrate her awareness? Of course not. She knew exactly what she was doing and got what she wanted.
   Geller, as you know by now, organized a Draw the Prophet Contest at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas on May 3, 2015. Two men drove from Phoenix to Garland with the evident intent of shooting up the place and I am not sorry to report were blown away by security police. 
   The U.S. media has not been shy in voicing its disapproval of Pam Geller. Erin Burnett of CNN, William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal, and Bill O'Reilly of Fox News have all railed against her for this as well as for her earlier acts of paying for "ambiguous" signs on transit vehicles, signs which made it unambiguous that she didn't have much use for Muslims. 
   So despised is Pamela Geller that she cannot legally visit the United Kingdom because the British government considers the organization she co-founded (The American Freedom Defense Initiative) to be a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center agrees and has listed the organization on its menu of hate groups. Even CPAC, which did permit her to address its conference in 2010, decided to bar her from appearing in 2013, in part because she had accused Grover Norquist (of all people) of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. 
   What, pray tell, do the First Amendment, Nazis in Illinois, book-burning Klansmen, fallen soldiers, Pamela Geller and Tom Brady all have in common? 
  Patience, mon ami. We are getting there.
  It matters not one bit what you do or what you say. If you do it or say it within a certain context, somebody somewhere is going to become upset. You can be ordering the Rooti Tutti Fruity breakfast at the International House of Pancakes and it is quite possible that the person sitting on the other side of the aisle may be triggered into leaping into the air like Little Richard in 1957, grabbing you by the shoulders and shouting right into your face the words "A wop bop a lu bop a wop bam boom" prefatory to head-butting you into unconsciousness. That's simply the chance you take for ordering something with such an odious name. 
   Carrying an anti-gay placard at a cemetery is likewise odious and if one of the family members of the deceased smashes in the mouth someone carrying such a sign, that suits me just fine. Burn a book in the public square because you disagree with the words printed inside it and please do not be too offended if a group of people drag you out into the street and throw you in front of an oncoming taxi cab driven by a confused Somalian. Attempt to offend members of one of the largest religious groups on the planet in both a derivative and decidedly non-artistic manner and the chances are excellent that someone is going to get hurt.
   Again, I ask you to think of Andre Gide (who also wrote "It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not"). Please do not understand me too quickly.
   Along with millions of other people, I find Pamela Geller to be odious. To state that with less ambiguity, I find millions of people odious and I find that millions of people join me in considering Geller to be odious. 
   Yet I have no problem whatsoever with what she did because the First Amendment says she can do it. Even if the First Amendment did not say it, she would have the inherent right to do what she did specifically because what she attempted to express was so reprehensible. 
   What the First Amendment does not guarantee is that she is protected from other people's responses to her exercise of free expression. Laws are in place to address other people's reactions. But other people at least get to try to respond to what you have to say. The people who threatened to throw rocks at the Nazis in Skokie would have been breaking the law. That should not have stopped them from trying and I doubt that it would have stopped them. Dragging a Klansman out into heavy traffic probably violates several local ordinances in a few villages. But people who would do it anyway are responding to the Klansman's method of communicating his distrust of the written word. In short, those who would advocate for their own rights of free expression as a means of stifling others must be guaranteed no further protection under the law. 
   Let us suppose that I oppose what we nowadays call the back door draft, the practice of impoverishing people so that they will have no choice except to enlist in the military in order to feed themselves and their families. I do oppose this, as it turns out. In response to this, I decide to commit an act of civil disobedience. Perhaps I chain myself to the gate outside the grounds of the White House. I'm not hurting anybody, but still it's a form of trespassing and after being warned by police to let myself go, they use their bolt cutters to break the chains and then handcuff me and charge me with some misdemeanor, one which requires that I spend a couple nights in the hoosgow. Either I believed in what I was symbolizing enough to endure the easily anticipated consequences or else I was wasting everybody's time. 
   You have the absolute right to freedom of expression. You also can expect that you will piss off somebody, especially if you are doing it right. In fact, pissing off people in authority ought to be one of the main reasons you are engaging in your behavior. 
   That, of course, is one reason while Pam Geller is so odious. Her intent was not to piss off people in authority. Her desire was to mess with people who are typically treated with all the respect we treat fishing worms. So while her theatrics at accusing Norquist of being a subversive strikes me as high comedy, what she organized in Garland was an exercise in the practice of classical conditioning. The response was predictable. 
   What Tom Brady did, if he did what some people believe he did, deserves a response. It deserves a response somewhat more exciting than the public fawning he received this afternoon when he declined to offer any mea culpa or explanation whatsoever for the NFL report that strongly implied his awareness of underinflated footballs. Watching what I laughing call an interview, I got the impression he was annoyed with the lateral passes that served as questions. A real man, according to my system of logic, would have said something to the effect of, "Look, people. It's a game that we wanted to win. We didn't punch anyone in the throat. We didn't blow up the other team's defensive line in a car bombing. We let some air out of a bunch of footballs. I'm sure there will be some punishment for that. I'm ready to accept that punishment. But ain't nobody taking away our damned trophy."
   Instead, he played it cute. He played to a crowd that was predisposed to worship him. He was like Nixon. And like Nixon, he will eventually reveal himself to be that one thing which he claims to most despise: He will be a quitter.
   However low Pamela Geller is on the evolution of ethics (and she's low, all right), she stands above the shoulders of paramecium such as Tom Brady. 
  Tom Brady is odious.