Archive for August, 2011

Who doesn’t like a Bugatti?

August 19, 2011

On the morning of August 18, 2011, while the cable channels with new were delivering non-stop monitoring of the numbers for the Dow Jones industrial average, people who were more concerned with automobiles were pouring into the town of Monterey California where their attention was focused on more esoteric topics such as the pre-auction estimate that a privately owned Ferrari would sell for two to three million dollars. 

Anyone who asks why someone would be willing to pay that much for a car that had been driven in the 1952 La Carrera Panamericana race by Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Scutuzzi should generate such expectations would probably not comprehend the answer.

Recently in bothBerkeleyandSan Francisco, the ranks of the homeless asking for spare change seems to be growing exponentially, so which bit of news tells the true story about how the economic picture for theUSAlooks this week?

Journalists who focus on one aspect of contemporary culture can be compared to a gourmet critic who goes to a smorgasbord takes one bite of one offering and then basis his entire evaluation on that isolated bit of factchecking.

A writer with a sharp sense of irony might find it curious that at a time when more and more people are becoming homeless, the story for travelers arriving inMontereywas a modern variation of the “no room at theInn.”  A single at a nationally know chain of hotels was available for $309.  The local hostel was booked solid.

In a predicament like that a columnist might envision writing something that Chuck Thompson, author of “smile when you’re lying:  confessions of a rogue travel writer,” would be proud to submit.

A Hunter S. Thompson wannabe might find enough material to make an expedition to this year’s installment of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance sound like it should be titled “Beer and Loafing inMonterey.”  Would “Champaignand Loafing” be more appropriate? 

In an era when austerity measures have nearly crippled the concept of “paid vacation” assignments, if the Ferrari (serial number 0226 AT) with Vignale coach work sells for considerably more than the pre-auction estimates, the resulting sensation will trigger a desperate scramble at various news organizations that had failed to send someone to the weekend event. 

If, on the other hand, the vehicle fails to meet expectations, the various news media that skipped the costs of being on hand just in case will breathe a sigh of relief.

There is a journalism legend that asserts that when a LIFE magazine photographer (back in the Eisenhower era) turned in an expense account for shooting a story onboard an ocean liner, he included an amount for taxi fare.  The accounting department challenged the item and was informed:  “It was a big ship.”  They paid him the money.

Shouldn’t a columnist who posts on web sites that monitor the news and information about political issues be devoting his efforts to producing a column that challenges the reader to consider the possibility that the recent BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) computer snafu which shut down the system during a recent commute hour and preceded the recent series of news stories about the agency’s struggle to contend with computer hack attacks (allegedly from the Anonymous group) might (potentially) have been spawned via a hack from their adversaries?  To which the hypothetical writer would probably respond:  “What’s the policy for paying bloggers Over Time?”

Didn’t there used to be a ubiquitous vulgar suggestion about how an overworked and underpaid employee could sweep the floors while simultaneously contending with an already crowded “to do” list?  Isn’t a complaint about being overworked now considered a quaint example of obsolete folk humor?  What means it when journalists exclaim:  “this afternoon, the ME wants to go waterskiing”?

Rather than waxing eloquent about a 750 Monza Scaglietti Spider (s/n 0492 M), which had been driven in various competitions by John von Neumann, Phil Hill, and Harrison Evans and “won” the fictional “Australian Grand Prix” in the movie “On the Beach,” shouldn’t a political pundit be speculating about the possibilities that Col. Qadaffi, who responded to President Reagan’s bombing of Libya by instigating the bombing of a Pan Am airplane over Lockerby Scotland, might retaliate even more vigorously to this year’s continued drone attacks on his own life and country?  Probably.

Editors who have to contend with an obstreperous columnist, who shoots more than 800 photos on a Nikon Coolpix in a 40 hour period, rather than churning out 800 words on a more pertinent topic, know the concept of “high maintenance employee” very well.  Wouldn’t the recent pathetic and anemic (with the notable exception of Mike Malloy) tone of progressive talk radio be more appropriate than the selling price of a mint condition Bugatti?  Don’t the progressives urging the reelection of the incumbent in next year’s Presidential Election sound as strained and insincere as the assurances a wife gives regarding the admirable qualities of her husband who is notorious in the local community for conducting numerous simultaneous love affairs?  (I.e. wouldn’t you love to get a buck for every time they reassure their audiences that “he really is a progressive and not a stealth Republican”?  So why not elaborate that metaphor in the new column?

However, it’s not bloody well likely that the BBC would be interested in the (perceptive?) insights of a rogue American blogger about the fact that the Anonymous grope hackers seem to have no problem gaining entry to various computer systems while advocates of the unverifiable results from the electronic voting machines still stoutly maintain that those machines are immune to hacking efforts.  On the other hand, if the magic aura of Ascari drives (15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike punning) the price of the Ferrari well above pre-auction estimates, then it is conceivable that the columnist’s shot of the aforementioned car would the editor in charge of selecting the BBC’s reader submitted news photos be glad to see a file containing an image of the race car in his e-mail in box?

The World’s Laziest Journalist has had one photo published on the Jalopnik website.  Do images of valuable Ferrari race cars interest their photo editor?  Does lightening ever strike twice in the same place?

As the appropriateness of Bush’s term “the forever war” becomes more and more apparent to American voters would it be easier for a columnist to write a sarcastic evaluation of shrinking school budgets using the headline “Does cannon fodder need a state subsidized college education?” or to produce a column that would convince “Jersey Bill” that if he doesn’t get to see an installment of the Pebble Beach event before he dies; he will regret his poor decision for all eternity?

Ian Fleming wrote:  “They have a saying inChicago:  ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.’”

Now the disk jockey will play “Hey, Little Cobra,” “Little GTO,” and the theme song from “Goldfinger.”  We have to go and try to make some hostel accommodation reservations for one year hence.    Have a “be careful of that button” (as Q once said to James Bond) type week.

The Decline and Fall of the Democratic Party?

August 12, 2011


While the Democrats constantly hum the refrain in the Eagle’s song about a fellow who spends his whole life locked up in chains only to discover that he has had the key in his hands all the while, the Tea Baggers are desperately hoping that those folks don’t read Edward Gibbon’s magnum opus, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” because if the perpetually stymied Democrats do peruse that example of literature, they might suddenly have a solution to the riddle of how to finance a country’s essential services while fighting capricious and strategically unnecessary foreign wars. 

When the Democrats eventually suggest not fighting optional wars, the Tea Baggers will quickly defuse (bellicose pun?) that argument by responding:  “World Peace will be a ‘Jobs Killer!’” 

Think of all the jobs that Peace would eliminate.  Then think of the “Age of Aquarius” and how many jobs that spawned.  Aren’t “Head shops” illegal in many states?  Once folks have listened to the “Hair” album a hundred times, then what? 

Recently when we learned that Willie Nelson was starting a new political party called “The Tea Pot Party,” we sent the link to the web site to a fellow who knows George Clayton Johnson (of Twilight Zone fame) and asked that the information be forwarded to Mr. “Kick the can.”  Did that get us any new regular readers?  No!  Would Hunter S. Thompson endorse Willie’s political endeavor? 

When we imitate Merle Haggard and make fun of the “hippies out inSan Francisco,” the column gets twice as many hits; so (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) expect some more columns with more sarcastic references to “drug addled morons.”

Speaking of the Hippies out in San Francisco (Hey, stoners, have you heard:  It’s just like the Jim Morrison song says; the Vietnam war is over!), they are just the kind of people to think that the recent “Kids for Cash” trial in North Eastern Pennsylvania is proof that the privatization of prisons was a bad idea. 

Does the fact that a judge was convicted of doling out excessive jail sentences for minor drug offenses (in return for a “finder’s fee”?) provide conclusive proof that privatizing jails was a bad idea?

Speaking of getting children headed in the right direction, on Thursday, August 11, 2011, on his radio program, Mike Malloy had a story about how the corporate farms were providing berry picking jobs for kids.  It was Malloy’s assertion that a seven year old kid had an entitlement to ten more years of public education rather than an opportunity to live out a “rags to riches” success story that is a basic ingredient of life in this “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” paradise for motivated citizens.

Apparently Malloy hasn’t seen “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”  He seems to be stuck in the nostalgic sixties with the “kids still respect the college dean” philosophy that superseded the “flower power” image of sticking a daisy down the barrel of an M-1 rifle. 

Which would be a better choice for seven year old kids:  the lyrics of the Roy Orbison song “Workin’ for the Man,” that teach berry pickers that if they work hard, then someday they might own the farm, or the lyrics to “Smokin’ in the Boys Room”?

The kids in school are blasted out of their minds and mouthing the song segment about seeing a picture of themselves on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.  (“Buy five copies for my mother.”)  Wouldn’t it be better for them to be outdoors in the fresh air doing some hard work?

Has moving their headquarters out ofSan Franciscohelped Rolling Stone magazine?  The latest issue invites readers to jump to the conclusion that if (subjunctive mood) Rupert Murdoch used extortion to influence politics inGreat Britainhe might be doing the same thing in theUnited States of America.  When Rolling Stone moved, did they lease some available office space in the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory?

In his essay, “Faking It,” Michael Sorkin wrote:  “If any accident produces coherence, all coherence is artificial.”  Thus if the Republicans can convince voters that their crazy quilt Party isn’t the medium but is the actual message, then the Democratic attempt to provide a coherent response will be perceived as artificial and doomed to fail.

When Sorkin referred to wrestling on TV, he stated:  “It tightens the link between the representation of reality and the comparable validity of its infinite distortions.”  Couldn’t the same be said of the Republican Party?

Isn’t the 2012 Presidential Election going to be a variation of TV wrestling?  Won’t the Republicans (who always get to frame the issues) present the idea that the Republicans are the clean cut All American hero types doing their best to get the referee (The United States Supreme Court) to notice that the other fellow is cheating?  The other fellow is always depicted as a slimy villain flip flopping out of the hero’s best move and then using an illegal punch to stun the hero? 

Jack Armstong (AKA the all American boy) will be pitted against a villain (oil sheik, Apache warrior, a guy in a German WWI helmet, an illegal alien, or [worst of all?] a Frenchman [can you say “existentialist,” boys and girls?]) who will immediately incur the disdain (This train?  This stain?  Whatever!) of the patriotic red blooded Americans in the audience. 

Would it help Jack Armstrong to validate his attempt to portray himself as “the next President,” if two members of his immediate family had previously worn the POTUS (President of theUnited States) crown?

At that point the staff at the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory will roll out their effort to conflate confusion with conviction and assert that President Obama is a Republican mole and encourage prejudice via a vote for any other available candidate? 

Isn’t that hypothetical future example of stealth racism just as absurd as the idiotic suggestion that Gorbachev was a CIA mole?

What are they smoking during their breaks (at least 20 feet away from the doors) near the entrances to the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory?

Jack Kerouac may have been speaking a bit prematurely for the Democrats when he said:  “We are a beaten generation.”

Now the disk jockey will play Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco[Be sure to wear a flower in your hair],” Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” and The Jefferson Airlane’s “White Rabbit.”  We have to go see if we can get a ticket to see “the Fanatics.”  Have a “Plastic fantastic” week.

Visions of Kesey

August 7, 2011

When morning for Monday, August 8, 2011, arrives onAmerica’s East Coast, the financiers will have already coped with their response to the Asian stock markets, the military will be replying to the weekend’s helicopter attack inAfghanistan, and the President will be meeting with his advisors to implement the Obama Administration response to the credit downgrade.  Voters in the USA will be visiting various web sites to learn the political pundits explanation for and analysis of last week’s news and that will be one step behind the playing out of this week’s reality and so the curious citizens might just as well be reading a subjective response to one of the new movies that opened this past weekend and by a remarkable co-inky-dink that is what this column contains.


The film “Magic Trip” contains home movies made by novelist Ken Kesey of a cross country trip he and his acolytes made in 1964 to visit theNew YorkWorld’s Fair.  The 16 mm home movies, almost 50 years old, used to provide the bulk of the movie’s images, may provide an inadvertent and very accurate prediction of what the USA would be like in the summer of 2011.


Ostensibly the documentary provides a nostalgia laden look back at a more innocent time when theUSAwas poised to grow and prosper and provide workers with a consumer’s paradise full of mod clothes, exciting new music, and inexpensive travel opportunities.  Unfortunately a closer look at the adventures of the Merry Pranksters may provide a metaphor for the dazed and confused America that is trying to figure out why their own government social services must be eliminated to provide a balanced budget that will permit the continuation of some capricious and perplexing military adventures in far away lands.


The film starts with the shot of a microphone which provides film aficionados with a visual pun that refers back to promotional material made for “Citizen Kane.” 


Successful novelist Ken Kesey (who was enjoying success from “One Flew Over the Cookoos’ Nest” and “Sometimes a Great Notion”) spent some money in early 1964, to acquire a 1939 International Harvester bus that had been transformed into a rolling dormitory room.  He envisioned using it to take his friends on a quest for an insightful movie about their journey.  The group of road acolytes were accompanied by Neal Cassidy who had already achieved fame as Jack Kerouac’s on the road traveling buddy.


What the movie actually shows is a group of social misfits and fuck-ups lurching through a series of travel disasters, a string of social <I>faux pas</I>, several encounters with American Literary legends Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, an anticlimactic visit to the World Fair, a bumbling inept visit to Timothy Leary’s estate, a series of numerous dispensations from their marriage vows, a return to the West Coast and coping with their leader’s jail term which was (magically?) truncated by a promise to denounce the use of the growing popularity of the experimental psychedelic drug called LSD.


Is the Tea Bag movement the political equivalent of LSD for conservatives?


The new century has seen theUSAbecome embroiled in questionable examples of democracy in action, a series of unprovoked wars, an imitation of Hitler’s distain for the Geneva Convention rules of war, the principlesAmericaestablished at the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials, and the standard American dream of a home surrounded by a white picket fence going into foreclosure. 


Simultaneously,Americahas turned on Fox News, tuned into the Republican talking points and dropped out of being well informed about political issues.


When theUSAbombsLibyaconstantly for more than four months to protect its citizens from their leader of forty years at the same time that the President turns his back on the Syrians who are being shot down like rabid dogs in the street, no responsible political pundit takes notice of the dichotomy. 


Why should they?  Aren’t they being paid to reassure the voters that the radioactive sites inJapan, the economic turmoil, the endless wars, the unexplainable election upsets, and the rapidly dwindling 401K accounts are no cause for alarm?  Chill out, dude!  You’re just having a bad trip. 


After seeing “Magic Trip,” we went to the Berkeley Public Library and borrowed a copy of Tom Wolfe’s book, “The Elecgtric Cool-aid Acid Test,” which was about what happened to Kesey’s posse


The book is highly regarded as a pioneering example of gonzo journalism, which was the label given to the trend in journalism whereby the writers injected themselves into the story they were covering.  From the vantage point of more than forty years later, the tone of the beginning of the book is more like a sales pitch at the entrance of a freak show.  Wolfe provides the ordinary folk with an alter ego for a journey into the land of pathetic drug fiends. 


Will he actually drop acid later in the book?  Perhaps, as the long hot summer of 2011 continues to play out, we will have a chance to finish reading the Acid Test book and write a column on its efforts to be a valid example of gonzo journalism.


Wolfe’s newspaper article and subsequent book anointed the Merry Pranksters to a high level of fame and notoriety.  Perhaps with some lucrative book deals some influential future historians will be able to depict the summer of 2011 as a time full of warm and fuzzy sentimentality when folks walked out of their recently foreclosed homes and went off in search of their inner Woody Guthrie? 


Wasn’t the Great Depression chock full of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, Amos ‘n’ Andy radio shows, and Black Mask magazines that were just so much fun?  Won’t the future look back at this summer with so much envy because they will have to settle for a vicarious participation in the antics? 


CBS radio news’ hour long weekend recapitulation of the week when the debt crisis was settled and theUSA’s credit rating was lowered is available on line at radio etc.  The political pundits’ analysis of this week’s current events should be available next weekend.


According to a popular urban legend, Kesey’s bus was the subject for a request from the Smithsonian Institute that it be donated to them.  In real life, it became a rusted out hulk on Kesey’sOregonfarm.  Future historians will know if the suggestion that the bus was a metaphor forAmerica’s Democratic process was valid or not.  How does the binary choice of “Four more years!” vs. JEB, grab ya?  In the “Magic Trip” movie, someone is heard dispensing the advice:  “Enjoy the chaos!”  Could there be a better epigram for capturing the zeitgeist for the summer of 2011?


Tom Wolfe wrote:  “They get the feeling that Kesey was heading out on further, toward a fantasy they didn’t know if they wanted to explore.” 


Now the disk jockey will play “Mellow Yellow,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.”  We have to check the current flower power level.  Have a <I>do svidaniya</I> type week.

Report of the Reporter on the Beatnik Beat

August 5, 2011

Now that President Obama has checkmated the Republicans and can coast to reelection, it seems that while Congress takes its summer vacation the folks who write political punditry can also kick back and use the dog days of summer to churn out some content on other more mundane matters. 

Some recent items from the Beatnik file have been accumulating on our desk and so we will use this weekend’s opening of the “Magic Bus” (Ken Kesey’s search for a cool place) movie as an excuse to do a roundup of items from the reporter who collects those tidbits of news and information about being “on the road” and lump them all together in one column.

We’ve been accumulating some new “road” books and are in the process of reading Alistair Cooke’s “The American Home Front,” which presents the story of that Brit’s road trip throughout theUSAin the early stages of WWII.  Cooke was one of the few journalists who covered the war’s effect on civilians while most of the countries journalists flocked to the various battle fronts.

At the beginning of John Steinbeck’s book “Travels with Charlie,” he talks about an encounter on an airplane trip with John Gunter and how they compared notes about how their two styles of gathering material differed.  Isn’t it odd that at the beginning of Gunther’s book “Inside the USA,” he tells readers that he used the itinerary of his crisscrossing road trip around theUSAto gather the book’s material as the outline for his way to present his material in the book?  Does that make it a “road book”?

At the Berkeley Public Library Main branch book store we discovered “It isn’t a Bus,” by Martha French Patterson and Sally Patterson Tubach, which is about Charles Everett Patterson’s (no relation to this columnist) pioneering efforts to turn a Flexible bus into a motorhome and tour theUSAin it, after World War II.

We are still plodding through a borrowed copy of Douglas Brinkley’s “Majic Bus.”

On Thursday, we learned that President Obama intends to go on a campaign style bus tour in August.  Sarah Palin did a brief bus tour publicity stunt earlier this year.

If the World’s Laziest Journalist’s efforts to become the pundit that other pundits read first has stalled out, then it might be time to post a terse ride wanted notice on Craig’s list:  “SWM seeks ride: SF – NYC” and see if we can join the vast number of journalists taking America’s pulse during this historic summer.  If we catch a transcontinental ride on a band’s tour bus, a chronicle of that journey might make us almost famous.

We noticed items on Kevin Roderick’s L. A. Observed web site recently noting that at least two writers have started an effort to walk across theUSA. 

What’s with all the bus trips?  What ever happened to hitchhiking?  Should we attempt theBerkeleytoBostonthumbing marathon?  In 1968, we used that method to get TonkawaOklahoma.  Perhaps a nostalgic series of columns could report on how theUSAhas changed (if it has) in the interim.

We’ve missed Hemingway Days for this year, but the Oshkosh Flying will be happening soon, and the 25th Annual Farm Aid Concert is coming up in Kansas City on the weekend of August 12 -14.  Would a trip to Burning Man produce some worthwhile columns?  Will this be the year we finally get to see some aspect of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance? 

Jack London wrote a book about traveling about the USA in 1898.  Is Jack London’s book, “The Road” a road book?  Could Mark Twain’s “The Innocents Abroad” be considered a road book?

Some critics of the World’s Laziest Journalist might think that the shtick of mentioning an attempt to get a speaking gig at the Beat Museum in San Francisco during Litquake is pathetic and getting tired and old.  Is it a genuine authentic bid for such an opportunity or is it a classic example of a subconscious effort to sabotage the request?  Can you picture the World’s Laziest Journalist doing all the work that would be required to give a talk which would promote the venue’s bookstore offerings (of road books and beat literature) as well as extol the virtues of the author’s memoirs which he intends to write someday when he “gets a round tuit.”  (Bah dump bump) 

Slowly, during the summer of 2011, the number of folks who are getting on the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factor employee’s shuttle bus (used to move folks about at their secret rebel encampment) seems to be growing.  People are beginning to put things together.  If you add 2 + 2 you get 4; but if you put 2 and 2 together, you get 22.

Can the Murdoch hacking scandal, the profits from the endless wars, the stolen 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections, the blind faith in unverifiable election results, the voter rebellion in Wisconsin, the Republican assertions that they are on the little guy’s side, the suspicion that Republican politicians are guilty of dereliction of duty (which would get them a courts-martial if they were in the military), the fact that Obama’s odd (but highly acclaimed) “reach out across the isle” style of negotiating closely resembles total capitulation, and the glaring SFW (So F*****g What?) aspect of the FAA fumbled ball story all be used as ingredients for a massive Liberal recipe for truth?  The result will serve as the answer to the standard conservative dodge:  “Something’s happening here; what it is ain’t exactly clear . . .”  

Are people beginning to suspect that the Republican refrain about how everything is unexplainable and that none of them are to blame when (not if) things go wrong, and that any conjecture about anything is automatically to be discounted as an unreliable conspiracy theory sounds just as phony and suspicious as O. J. Simpson’s adamant assertion that he was not guilty?  Or does it sound like Captain Queeg’s deductive reasoning process that lad to the conclusion that there was another key to the wardrobe?

When will Americans get to hear Michelle Bachman say:  “Tell Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.”?  Do Democrats think of “the Ballad of Lucy Jordan” when they hear the latest Republican spin?

In the summer of 2011, would there be a market for T-shits that proclaim:  “Only certified millionaires should spout Republican talking points!”?  Would that cover the recent Internet fuss over the allegation that David Gregory continues to pepper his (loaded) questions with Republican talking points?

Ken Kesey has been quoted (Bartlett’s 125th anniversary edition page 913) as saying:  “Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus.  If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again.  If you’re off the bus in the first place – then it won’t make a damn.” 

Now the disk jockey will play:  Ray Charles’ “Hit the road, Jack” and Willie Nelson’s “On the road again,” and his duet with Lacy J. Dalton’s on the song “Where has a slow moving, once quick draw, outlaw got to go?”  We have places to go find out more about <a href =>Willie Nelson’s new Tea pot Party</a>.  Have a “real gone” week.