Archive for April, 2011

Telling it like it was . . .

April 28, 2011

Say the words “National Park” in front of aNew York Cityresident and he (or she) will have a Rorschach reaction and immediately conjure up images of grouchy grizzly bears, surly rattlesnakes, and insatiable bloodthirsty mosquitoes lurking in vast patches of poison ivy.

There is, however, a slim hope that they can be weaned away from their natural aversion to any location perceived by them as harboring a vast array of examples of photosynthesis at work and that ultimately they can be convinced to visit a countervailing example which can be found in Richmond California where the Department of the Interior has established the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park to commemorate the effort civilian workers provided for America’s participation in the FDR era defense of the Four Freedoms.

Visitors to this unique tourist attraction won’t need to lug along a bird-spotting guidebook nor a botanist’s knowledge of poison oak and/or ivy.  The only plant they will see is a facility for making Ford automobiles that was converted into a segment of the Kaiser Shipbuilding assembly line that was located in theEastBaysection of theSan FranciscoBay.

Park visitors should bring a curiosity about history and a vivid imagination, which is tempered by accurate period information.  Those visitors who augment their tourist experience by conjuring up Busby Berkeley-ish images of a beehive of homogenous and harmonious workers toiling in synchronized hall of mirrors type images, will have their illusions shattered by park ranger Betty Reid Soskin.  She will tell visitors about the animosity and rancor that was rampant during the period of unified purpose.  She should know; she can provide a vivid “what it was really like” description of the WWII events because she was part of it.  That last sentence may raise the hackles of even the most amateurish fact finder, but you read it right. 

If anyone had attended the 20th birthday party for Betty Reid Soskin, they might have faced a wall of incredulity if they had (accurately) predicted that almost seventy years later, she, as the oldest National Park Ranger in America, would be <a href =http://cbreaux.blogspot.com/ >blogging about her work and the preparations for receiving her doctoral degree</a> at an institute of higher learning because, in November of 1941, she would, in the next four years, have to contend with problems of race and gender discrimination, minimum wages, inflation and cost of living raises, and seven day work weeks. 

According to our recollections of some serendipity reading of back issues of Time and Newsweek, dated soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, some politicians advanced the idea that the (relatively) recent laws, enacting overtime pay after 40 hours of work within one week, should be suspended for the duration of the war in order for workers not to be guilty of war profiteering.  Ironically, later in World War II, workers had to call wildcat strikes because their regular wages were not keeping pace with the War Time rate of inflation. 

Dealing with capitalists on wage issues brings to mind aLaureland Hardy comedy routine in which a coin would be flipped to make a decision. Laurel(or was it the other one) would toss the coin and the conditions of the call (Heads – I win; tails – you loose!) would be given to the other guy while the coin was flipping through the air.

Many years ago, there was an Oped piece in the New York Times that related an insidious example of discrimination inAmericaat work during World War II.  A roadwork gang inKansaswas doing a very commendable day’s work and came upon an isolated rural café.  The officer in charge of the German prisoners of war and their guards decided that everyone had earned a break.  The café owner permitted the German prisoners to come in and eat, but refused to let the Negro American guards come inside his establishment

[When Republicans take their oath for a political office don’t they have the option of inserting this additional wording:  “I solemnly swear to uphold the rights of the rich and protect and defend them from the insatiable greedy demands of the loathsome and reprehensible workers, so help me God!”?  What true fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers football team would object to that codicil?]

Would Ayn S. Rand condone the use of World War II as a lever for increasing a capitalists’ profit margin?  Are wild bears Catholic

The expression “Rosie the Riveter” was popularized during the war by a Norman Rockwell painting used as a cove for the May 29, 1943 edition of the Saturday Evening Post magazine and by the “Rosie the Riveter” song performed by the Four Vagabonds.

During World War II, 747 ships were built by theRichmondshipyards. 

The park is seeking stories bout life on the home front during WWII, as well as any memorabilia.  Information about the park is available online at:

http://www.nps.gov/rori/index.htm

The shipyards inRichmondlaunched the Liberty Ship, the SS Robert E. Peary, in 1942.  It was constructed in the record time of 4 days, 15 hours, and 23 minutes. 

Kaiser’s industrial miracle was augmented by innovations in housing, medical care for the workers and child care.

Now, are the readers inManhattanbeginning to see how and why they would feel comfortably “at home” in this National Park on the Western side of the USA

Visitors to this unique tourist attraction can choose to customize their National Park experience from a list of components toRichmond’s checkerboard patterned park map.  They can pick from a list that includes some “do not disturb the occupants” type war era facilities still in use as well as the walk around and take a bunch of picture locations.  They can choose from: the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, the SS Red Oak Victory (example of ships built there), the Whirley Crane (this columnist knows of one former co-worker who is a connoisseur of cranes), theFordAssemblyPlantBuilding, andAtchisonVillage(to name some but not all).  A Park Visitors’ Center is nearing the time for its dedication ceremony.

PBS did a documentary about the home front during WWII and a book titled “Don’t you know there’s a war going on?” are suggested resources for any of this column’s readers who want more inormation on the topic.

On October 30, 1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt said:  “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”  Construction of Shipyard No. 1, in Richmond, began on January 14, 1941.

Now the disk jockey will play Louis Jordan’s version of “G. I. Jive,” Guy Lombardo’s “Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland,” and Vaughn Monroe’s “When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World.”  (Hey, pal, you got a problem with his choices?)  We have to go buy some War Bonds.  Have a “someday this war will be over” type week.

Banksy, Col. Kurtz and Obama agree

April 24, 2011

Banksy’s harsh philosophy about perseverance is contained in a mural, located at Columbus and Broadway in San Francisco, that isn’t very noticeable at street level and so there is a high degree of probability that President Obama did not see the art work that advises “If at first you don’t succeed – call in an airstrike,” which might become a philosophical conundrum if the endeavor in question happens to be ineffective airstrikes such as the ones NATO is conducting against Libya.  The fact that the NATO airstikes are now being supplemented by unmanned drone attacks might mean that Obama did see Banksy’s mural during a recent Presidential visit to Frisco and realized that Col. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) in “Apocalypse Now,” was right when he wrote:  “We must exterminate them!”  The Liberians will learn to love America for its efforts to protect them from Gaddafi or die in the process.

The newest American quagmire seems to be causing an identity crisis for Obama supporters.  IfAmerica’s first President of Panafrican heritage is doing what George W. Bush did how can they explain their extensive criticism of the Republican and simultaneously defend their enthusiasm for the Democratic Party President who is committing the Bush initiated war crimes and atrocities at an even greater pace? 

Progressive talk radio shows now feature hosts who promote Obama’s agenda with the same degree of incomprehensible propaganda babble as Uncle Rushbo provided for Dubya when he first started the American commitment to invasions, slaughter, and torture.

The President seems to assume that the writers for liberal web sites owe him the same level of unquestioning fanatical support as he gets from the paid hacks on the airwaves. 

The World’s Laziest Journalist has consistently ridiculed the logic contained in George W. Bush’s line of completely absurd reasoning used to rationalize his foreign policy that grew out of the barrel of a gun.  We have asked, long before the dedication of the Bush Presidential Library, if there would be a display featuring an example of the aluminum tubes that provided a ludicrous rational for going to war because we believe that the columnist’s role in society is to criticize all politicians.  We stand prepared to question and criticize the winner of the 2012 Presidential Election regardless of who wins. 

If the winner happens to be a Republican, that will make what we write a very welcome contribution to various liberal websites.  If the winner is the Democratic Party candidate that means that our efforts will be a bit uncomfortable for readers who want partisan enthusiasm rather than sarcastic criticism.

Does that mean that the World’s Laziest Journalist will never offer punditry for pay services?  If we wanted to provide hired gun wordsmithing, we’d just run an ad saying something like this:  “Have laptop; will gush (pro-Democratic Party gibberish) Wire Palindrome San Francisco.”  For the time being, that ain’t gonna happen.

For reason which only a conspiracy theory lunatic would appreciate, we think that it behooves the (Karl Rove) Republican game plan to promote the misperception that President Obama has a commanding lead over the assortment of ragtag Republicans vying for their party’s Presidential Nomination. 

After reading some of Ian Kershaw’s book “The Hitler Myth, Image and Reality in the Third Reich” this columnist envisions a scenario whereby one Republican who has been on a “listening tour” of America for the past two years, suddenly (after a spectacularly strong showing in the Iowa caucuses) becomes a media darling with a tsunami of adoring news stories about a massive and spontaneous “firestorm” of public approval. 

That bit of conspiracy theory lunacy would be possible only if one had the übercynical perception thatAmerica’s free press could be manipulated into compliance with this scenario and somehow provide the aforementioned avalanche of propaganda for (JEB?) the phenomenon candidate that this hypothetical conjecture about a political blitzkrieg requires.

The fact that the World’s Laziest Journalist was kicked off a popular blog site for conjecture about the possibility that the unverifiable results from the electronic voting machines would be the basis for a return of the Bush Dynasty to the contemporary American Political scene is what we use as the basis for assuming that paid political pundits could be subjected to subtle stealth bits of message shaping in the free market arena of journalism. 

Recently the World’s Laziest Journalist has produced the keystrokes necessary for several columns, but then when it came time to pack up the memory stick and trudge off to a Public Library computer to post the column, the enthusiasm and momentum evaporated completely.  Why bother? 

A current of disapproval of Obama by people who voted for him in 2008 is being ignored by the well paid punditry experts.  Is this part of the set up for a “nobody saw that coming” Republican upset in 2012?  If the seeds of dissention are blooming within the ranks of Obama’s supporters and if Regan Democrats defect from Obama in 2012, is the stage being set for the arrival on the Republican side of a charismatic candidate who can unite the various factions of his party and country via a magnetic personality? 

Anyone who has read the aforementioned Kershaw book would be sure to expect Republicans to use the adoring fans shtick such as described on page 30:  A lucky fellow “who received a small bunch of three carnations . . . had to be satisfied with a few small remains . . . after his friends had ravaged the bunch and grabbed bits of the flowers for themselves.” 

What TV news producer could miss the chance to run footage of such a tableau, even if it had been carefully choreographed beforehand?  “It must be true; I seen it on TV!”

Recently we wrote several columns disparaging Obama but failed to summon the motivation for doing the additional work involved in going online and posting them.

The inertia and failure to go out and post columns disparaging Obama’s new variation of the Bush war crimes and torture, reminds us of the former boss who used to dismiss all irrelevant ephemera by sounding like an indulgent rich dad by saying:  “Yes, yes, yes!  Of course!  Now run along and play.” 

After reading Jeremy Mercer’s book about living in a famous Paris bookstore, “time was soft there,” this columnist is considering the merits of dropping by the editorial offices of Kilometer Zero magazine and chatting up the publisher in hopes of getting something published in that literary publication.  Should the World’s Laziest Journalist do that and write columns about the effort?  “Yes, yes, yes!  Of course!  Now run along and play.”

Should this columnist make an effort to fact check and write a column about experiencing the 24 Hour race atLe Mansfirst hand?  “Yes, yes, yes!  Of course!  Now run along and play.”

Would it be worth the effort to write a column calling the attention of fans of the film “Apocalypse Now” to the fact that in Robert L. Carringer’s book, “The Making of Citizen Kane,” we learned that before making that movie, Orson Wells spent time working on a possible modernized film version of Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness”? 

Our boss, whom we have just quoted, also used to give some colorful advice about what to do in caseLos Angelesbecame the target for a Russian nuclear attack:  “Run towards the flash!” 

Now, the disk jockey will play Orson Wells version of the song “I know what it is to be young; you don’t know what it means to be old,” the Doors’ “The End,” and the soundtrack album for “Good morningVietnam!”   We have to go buy a pair of track shoes.  Have a “terminate Col. Gaddafi’s command” type week.

National Columnists’ Day for Hunter Thompson fans

April 14, 2011

National Columnists’ Day occurs annually on April 18 because it was on that date in 1945 that war correspondent/columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in action on theislandofIe Shima.  In past years, our annual National Columnists’ Day column has detailed Pyle’s life and career and in other years it was devoted to other memorable columnists such as Herb Caen and Walter Winchell.  About two weeks ago, we took a break from the task of selecting a subject for this year’s installment and went down to the local Half Price Bookstore in downtownBerkeleyto score a bargain bin copy of Ammo Books’ “Hunter S. Thompson,” which is subtitled “Gonzo.” 

Recently, we had caught a screening of the film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and followed it up with an immediate repeat viewing via a VHS tape, on the following day.  The “Gonzo” book, edited by Steve Crist and Laila Nabulsi, includes photos and reproductions of memorabilia from Thompson’s life.  While perusing the new addition to the collection, because a friend is preparing to celebrate her fortieth birthday, we noticed one particular illustration in the Ammo book; it was a certificate of achievement, from the National District Attorneys Association noting the fact that the Thompson had covered the Third National Institute Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs convention which was held, in Las Vegas, on April 25 to 29 in 1971.  We realized that the events described in Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” book were also celebrating their 40th birthday. 

After starting to reread the book, we recalled reading columns by Hunter S. Thompson in the (now defunct) Los Angeles Herald Examiner and then later, in the computer age, online.  Thompson has always been hard to categorize and so it seemed that selecting him to be the peg for this year’s installment of our annual National Columnists’ Day column made the choice a “slam-dunk” because forty years after Thompson blurred the lines between fiction and journalism all of American Journalism has become a credibility challenge for those who want to know if what the government is telling the people is fact or fable. 

“Fear and Loathing inLas Vegas” is subtitled:  “A Savage Journey into the Heart of the American Dream” and that may be a play on title of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”  Forty years ago, the concept of the “American Dream” evoked clichéd references to a home surrounded by a white picket fence.  Today, the thought of a “home” conjures up images of thousands of families being thrown out of their homes by wealthy businessmen (who contribute generously to various political reelection funds?) who are just as savage and ruthless as any native warrior encountered by Marlow in the journey described in the Conrad novel. 

Forty years after Thompson lampooned the American Dream, circa 1971, theUSAis full of disillusioned families with broken dreams trying desperately to cope with homelessness and the darkness in their new depression era hearts.  The country is going broke fighting three separate perpetual military adventures which are either just for the pure fun of it or are wars of imperialistic aggression.  The American Dream has morphed into a nightmare while American Journalism stands by obsessing over the latest celebrity gossip about Charlie Sheen and ignoring the Republican Party’s coordinated efforts to vandalize and sabotage the Democratic process of holding honest elections.

Thompson helped popularize the term “Gonzo Journalism” which became a handy label for a Sixties journalism trend marked by the writer including himself in the events being described while simultaneously exaggerating some factual aspects of the story.  (For a more scholarly approach to the wide open and vague bit of fact checking about the origin of the word “gonzo,” refer to page 128 of Jann S. Wenner and Corey Seymour’s oral biography of Thompson, titled “Gonzo,” published in 2007 by Little Brown and Co.) 

In the early stages of Internets development, we belonged to an e-mail group of people (mostly scholars) who were focused on all things concerning Ernst Hemingway and they accepted without challenge the idea that the degree of involvement of the writer in his own story, as far as both Hemingway and Thompson were concerned, was about equal.  The term “gonzo” had not come into contemporary American Literary culture when Hemingway was writing (and producing columns) about WWII and the Spanish Civil War.  Is it possible to make the case for asserting that Hemingway was the spiritual godfather of gonzo journalism?

While George W. Bush was President, columnists who furnished vitriolic criticism of the fellow, who Thomas called “the child-President,” became wildly popular on liberal web sites and attracted an eager audience whose appetite for disparaging remarks about the occupant in the White House couldn’t be satisfied by a relentless torrent of criticism. 

In “Kingdom of Fear,” the last of Thompson’s books published while he was still alive, the pessimistic attitude regarding the future of America is epitomized by the phrase “Big Darkness Soon Come” and it doesn’t take a scholar with impeccable academic credentials to say that if Thompson had lived, he would be very acerbic in his assessments of George W. Bush’s successor who has rubber stamped his approval (“imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”) of almost every one of Bush’s outrages against the Geneva Accords and the rules of engagement. 

Thompson was relentless in applying his philosophy regarding politicians (“Don’t take any guff from these swine”) to the Bush Administration and anyone who wants to assume that Thompson would give President Obama a pass and, instead, provide partisan platitudes just because he wasn’t a Republican is asking for a stretch in logic that betrays the foundations of rational thinking.

Thompson’s righteous indignation, directed against George W. Bush, was a matter of principle not subject to change when a new President from the other major political party took the oath of office, rather than being an example of partisanship (of the German salute level of commitment kind) which would defy credibility when it broke the WTF barrier of logic and did a complete 180 degree about-face to mollify the new war monger (not that the new guy gives a farthing about what columnists or bloggers think of his ERA [or era?]) Thompson would have continued his acerbic snarky attitude with only the name of the President being criticized changed.

Philip K. Dick, in “Man in theHighTower,” envisioned a cult hero writer adored by his fans who lived in isolation inColorado.  The World’s Laziest Journalist is alone in his conviction that Dick had accurately forecast the cult of Thompson fans, in his alternative history novel which was written and published when Thompson was graduating from high school and serving a hitch in the Air Force.  If this columnist was younger and more ambitious, he might consider doing a doctoral thesis as the basis for a comparison of the real life writer to Dick’s fictional character.

Thompson’s biographers report that he was obsessive in his slavish attention to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, “The Great Gatsby” and that Hunter may have either consciously or unconsciously patterned “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” on Fitzgerald’s work of fiction.  Ironically, the Fitzgerald novel has become an icon of life in the Twenties during prohibition and “Fear and Loathing inLas Vegas” has become a symbol of the hippie life style.  Each novel has come to epitomize an American generation.  Perhaps some diligent liberal arts graduate student will do a doctoral thesis comparing and contrasting the two (related?) examples of classic contemporary American Literature?

While gathering information for this column we were informed that Cliff Notes does not have a detailed critical analysis of “Fear and Loathing inLas Vegas” available.  Perhaps some industrious literary critic will now send a query letter to the Cliff Notes commandant and perhaps that gap will be remedied?

The fact that theBeatMuseum(inSan Francisco) has become the host site for two courses (for college credit?) in creative writing brought to mind the academic consternation caused when a pioneering effort to teach a course in Beat Literature was a controversial innovation and that, in turn, caused us to wonder if any college or university anywhere offers a course of study (Gonzo 101?) devoted to the works of Hunter S. Thompson or an overview of Gonzo journalism per se.

Ernie Pyle went toEnglandto cover the Battle of Britain.  Hunter S. Thompson covered the Viet Cong’s arrival inSaigonafter American troops were evacuated.  Would it be too Philip K. Dick-ish to try to envision how an imaginary encounter between Pyle, if he had lived longer, and Thompson, during the evacuation ofSaigon, would have played out? 

Looking through the index for Karl E. Meyer’s book “Pundits, Poets, & Wits (An Omnibus of American Newspaper Columns)” it is obvious that we could have made a different less controversial selection for this year’s installment of our National Columnists’ Day column, but the fact that Thompson could be a contentious choice made it all the more imperative to do so.

About his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, Thompson wrote:  “Oscar was one of God’s own prototypes – a high powered mutant of some kind who was never even considered for mass production.  He was too weird to live, and too rare to die.”  The same might be said of Thompson himself.

Now the disk jockey will play the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” soundtrack album.  We have to go to a wifi hot spot and post this column early as a way to stir up a “my National Columnists’ Day column is better than yours” competition to increase public awareness of the annual event.  Have a “Gonzo” type week.