Archive for January, 2013

“ . . . a trial with a judge, jury, everything . . . then we’ll hang ya!”

January 28, 2013

[Fox has legally established the right to present lies as news and therefore one of the unintended consequences of that judicial ruling is that individual consumers of political punditry (such as this column) are solely responsible for any concomitant fact checking deemed appropriate.]

“Cemetery John,” written by Robert Zorn (The Overlook Press, New York N.Y. ©2012) slowly and methodically dismantles the case against Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was tried and executed for participating in the theft of some children’s clothes from the home of Col. Charles A. Lindbergh.  Any reader of this column who assumes that Hauptmann was fried in New Jersey’s electrical chair because he was found guilty of the murder of the kidnapped baby has probably relied on other less comprehensive reports about the notorious crime.  In “Don’t Know Much about History,” author Kenneth C. Davis blithely informs his readers “ . . . but the evidence in the case was always strong against him (Hauptmann).”  (“What we have here is . . . failure to communicate!”)

Zorn’s book not only contradicts the conventional wisdom about Richard Bruno Hauptmann, he names a specific person as the mastermind of the famous heinous crime and builds an extensive case to bolster his assertion.

According to Zorn, academics have formulated a computer program that achieves a much higher accuracy rating for handwriting analysis than the human experts have scored in the past.  This innovative example of computer superiority confirms that his suspect actually wrote (at last parts of) the ransom notes delivered to Col. Lindbergh.

Dr. John F. Condon, whose initials JFC were used to derive his handle as Jafsie, served as the go-between for negotiations with a suspect (or suspects?) demanding money from the Lindberghs for the safe return of the baby.

Dr. Condon spoke directly to a suspect and later was reluctant to swear that Hauptmann was the person with whom he spoke.  Initial descriptions of the suspect given to police after his first encounter with an alleged kidnapper contradict the physical appearance of the man who was executed in the electric chair for being the one and only perpetrator of the vile deed.  Dr. Condon, AKA Jafsie, was, according to Zorn, coerced into upgrading his level of certainty and eliminating all his previously expressed doubts about Hauptmann being the man to whom Dr. Condon, at a second meeting, handed the ransom money. 

Zorn raises a question about the possibility that the “Trial of the Century” actually took place in a location that did not legally have jurisdiction over the matter. 

The conviction and execution of Hauptmann provided a foundation for a wide variety of careers for lawyers, politicians and police officials.  In the Thirties, any assertions about gaps in logic concerning the case quickly earned the sensational publicity seeking source a major amount of ridicule and (subsequently) a chance for inclusion in the Conspiracy Theory Hall of Fame. 

Zorn alleges that some of the seats in the court room were sold by a local police official.  Coverage of the sensational trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann provided a springboard to fame for some of the journalists who reported on the proceedings.  Columnist Walter Winchell was one of those lucky individuals. 

The antediluvian (has using big words gone out of fashion?) columnists’ technique, called three dot journalism, of using an ellipse to separate unrelated items has been superseded by the trend to streamline the demands on a reader’s attention span by adhering to the policy of one topic per column, but in the era of channel surfing via the remote control, perhaps the eclipse of the ellipse style will end? 

Could separate and distinct topics, such as gun control, filibustering and storm damage legislation, which were separated by the use of three dot journalism, actually have a narrative thread which connects them all together?

With the new rules for filibustering, could a Senator introduce a ban on assault rifles with a dramatic public announcement which delights advocates of gun control and then later use the recently amended filibuster rules to anonymously kill the possibility of having a vote on that item and thus win the continuing supply of campaign donations from various gun supporting groups?  Aren’t all things possible through prayer?

Voters in California, who are “news junkies,” may have heard some (one or two?) disturbing rumors, last week, that both of their Democratic Senators allegedly gave stealth support to the piss poor filibuster reform measure that was approved by the Senate.  According to one radio report, a Senator who disapproved of the anemic reform actually told reporters the names of Quisling Democratic Senators who had quietly betrayed their constituents but he was quickly silenced (by senior Democratic Party officials?).

As the World’s Laziest Journalist understands it, the new filibuster rules present very ominous possibilities that only a vigilant free press can prevent.  At the end of December, the Congressional vote on Sandy Storm relief was postponed until after the New Year’s holiday.  The first day of the New Year, it was given immediate Congressional approval amid much loud hosannas in the news media.  Most folks didn’t notice the small footnote attached to the story:  Since a new congress was being sworn in, the approval of the measure by Congress meant that to be enacted into law it had to re-win approval in the Senate. 

Those good ole boys in the Senate were, as the new session got started, mighty busy with filibuster reform, gun control, the annual State of the Union name calling competition, and (tah dah dah dutt dutt daaaahhh!) immigration reform and so it is possible that in all that excitement they have forgotten how many bills, such as the Storm relief bill, needed to be passed.  Now, they have to ask themselves another question:  “How many of the voters will notice/care?”  To which we can only add the traditional San Francisco question:  “Well, do ya, punk?”

In a country that is known for its dedication to a free press and truth, fretting about this slight oversight going unnoticed is probably a fool’s errand.  Since the World’s Laziest Journalist’s headquarters operates with limited access to commentary in the free press (the access costs money) we might have missed ample examples of instances where this possible sin of omission has been mentioned.  If it has not, then just as soon as the posse known as the New York Times national desk reads this column, they will (we must assume) pen a lead editorial calling the Senate to task for the glaring political fumble.

In all the excitement over the Judicial ruling that President Obama exceeded his authority with some recess appointments, the Journalists commenting on the sensational development seem to have missed a partisan implication question.  Will the Republicans use that decision as the grounds for starting impeachment proceedings against the President they love to hate?

Speaking of gun control, Zorn reports that Col Lindbergh was armed when he accompanied Dr. Condon when the doctor went to pay the ransom money and that the famous flyer noticed a fellow (who most likely knew that the Lindbergh baby was dead and that the ransom transaction was a fraud) walking away from the rendezvous location.  If (subjunctive mood) Col. Lindbergh had shot that person in the back, would he have been exonerated for an act of vigilante justice or would he have been convicted of murder by a jury of gun control advocates?  Just asking.

It will soon be the fiftieth anniversary of the time when Lee Harvey Oswald said to journalists:  “I’m a patsy.”

Now the disk jockey will play Johnny Cash’s “The Long Black Veil,” Merle Haggard’s “I’m the only Hell my mama ever raised,” and the Kingston Trio’s “Tom Dooley.”  We have to go buy a “Go Niners!” T-shirt.  Have a Lombardi Trophy winning type week.

A Pub with a visual motto?

January 15, 2013

A Pub with a visual motto?

This pub in Sydney has some advice for customers even before they walk through the front door.

Berkeley motif seen in Kalgoorlie (W. A.)

January 15, 2013

Berkeley motif seen in Kalgoorlie (W. A.)

This hood was seen a few moons ago in Kalgoorlie in the W. A. (Western Australia). It is a common motif in Berkeley CA which is AKA “bear country.”

Who ya gonna call?

January 10, 2013

“Did Mr. Houdini really make the elephant disappear?”

“Yes,” I said.  “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Did President Bush make the expenses of running two wars disappear?  Telling the truth to Dubya’s loyal admiring fans would be as cruel and vicious as trying to take away their guns would be . . . and just as unproductive.

Modern Society is fueled by misperceptions.  Ridiculing the Emperor’s new clothes has always been a sure fire way to become an outcast.  A book of literary criticism summed it up in its title:  “Naked is the best disguise.”

In the early part of the Twentieth Century, there was a Congressman (everybody in Congress was a man back then and so the correct designation was Congressman) who was very popular and seemed destined to land in the Senate or the Governor’s office in Minnesota . . . until he criticized the role that bankers were playing in the effort to get the United States into the War to End All Wars.

That fellow, as a young lawyer, got into trouble when a bank sent him out to foreclose on a farm and he returned with the money that paid the farmer’s loan up to date.  The Bankers were furious and fired him.  He got his revenge by becoming a political activist who worked on behalf of farmers.  To show their gratitude, they elected him as their Congressman.

When a European member of nobility got shot and millions of soldiers were called on to die in the ensuing war, some influential decision makers in the USA saw the fracas as a sure way to increase profits for certain businessmen.  The fellow, who had been born in Stockholm Sweden, started saying things like:  “The war-for-profit group has counterfeited patriotism.”

Wasn’t patriotism what fueled the British soldiers’ charge into machine gun fire in the subsequent battles for “no man’s land” in WWI?  According to information we stumbled upon in a non-fiction book by Len Deighton, a curious thing called “the creeping barrage” may have augmented the patriotism.  It was alleged that in an effort to encourage soldiers to participate in the charge against the German line, an artillery barrage was laid down by the British.  It started behind the front line.  The shells were gradually moved farther forward and the soldiers in the trenches had the option of taking their chances with the barrage or running at the German line and see if they could get past them.  The image of brave young men running enthusiastically at the dreaded Bosch was very reassuring to the families on the home front.

The American Congressman had sealed his fate and his career in the halls of Congress was doomed.  He remained popular with his constituents, but they just couldn’t reelect him because of his views.  He tried in vain to become governor, but that didn’t work.

He was quoted as telling his son “In war it is not safe to think unless one travels with the mob.”

His achievements faded into the history books but not his name.  His son, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr. became a celebrity pioneer in the field of aviation.

In an article on a notorious TV appearance by the singer Madonna, writer Norman Mailer hypothesized that celebrities (and politicians?), who were rascals, would be forgiven so long as they didn’t commit the one unforgivable sin, which is going against type.  Hence celebrities who project an image of virtue are dealt with severely, by the media and fans, when they are caught in a scandal.

You could be a cynic who tells America that Houdini didn’t make the elephant disappear, but showing them how he did it would be completely unacceptable.

Did Robert Capa fake his most famous picture?  According to his biographer Richard Whelan, Capa was a rake-hell who often embellished his achievements with heaps of exaggeration and so the possibility that the “Falling Soldier” photo was an elaborate ruse is irrelevant.

Why is it that Elvis Presley was drafted but James Dean wasn’t?

When we first encountered a best selling history of the USA that had a title that (we thought) hinted it would be a “tell all” expose, we had visions of giving it a place of honor in the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory reference library.  Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be “more of the same” that breathlessly described how various legendary American heroes had made the elephant vanish into thin air.

[Note from the photo editor:  the photos we had of Banksy’s Los Angeles art installation called “The elephant in the room” have disappeared from the World’s Laziest Journalist’s photo archives and so this column will run without an accompanying photo.]

Is it hard work to be the World’s Laziest Journalist?

Did a well known folk singer really “burst on the scene already a legend”?

Was Amy Sample McPherson really kidnapped?

Did one bullet really do all that damage in Dallas?

Did a famous editor lie to a little girl named Virginia?

Are Federal investigators still trying to learn who made money on short selling airline stocks on Sept. 10, 2001?

Did Building 7 ever really exist?

Was President George W. Bush really able to reduce taxes, wage two wars, and not make a significant increase in the deficit?

When it comes time to make the call always remember the old journalism axiom:  “Always print the legend.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Do you believe in magic,” “That old black magic ” and“ Magic moments.”  We have to go try to score some tickets for Houdini at the Hippodrome.  Have an “abracadabra” type week.

The sad state of Journalism in the USA

January 9, 2013

During the last half of the 1930’s, Europe was flooded with journalists from America, who were being paid to report on the ominous developments that indicated a trend towards fascism was occurring, and they, subsequently, became the subject for a trend spotting item for historians to unearth.  Concurrently radio was in its Golden Age stage and Hollywood was about to release the movies that marked the high water mark.  Critics agree that the films receiving Oscar™ nominations for 1939 were a remarkable collection of excellent movies that has never been equaled in the following years.

What makes 2013 different from 1939?  How good is radio these days?  In typical Irish style we’ll answer that question with another question:  Was there more or less political propaganda on radio in Germany in 1939 or in the USA today?  In the late Thirties in Germany, citizens caught listening to foreign radio stations were dealt with in a very severe manner.  Why doesn’t the app that lets Americans listen to American radio stations on their cell phone let them listen to foreign origin radio stations?

Have the movies gotten better?  An obsession with maintaining political correctness while attracting the largest possible number of paid admissions has rendered cinema moribund.  How many Ten Best lists included “Killer Joe”?  Is regimented thinking a bad symptom in a country that was founded on the principle of freedom of speech?  Ja,wohl!

How much demand for foreign correspondents is manifest in American Journalism today?

CBS had a list of foreign correspondents in Europe in the Fifties that was on the “all star” level.  Today about the only foreign correspondent working in Europe that we can name is Silvia Paggioli and she works for NPR.

Do the students attending college this year have any idea who Gerda Taro was let alone consider her a woman’s lib role model?

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat history but what happens when the young generation is discouraged from learning history at all?

Back when LBJ was in the White House, the current issue of the French language magazine Paris Match was sold on the newsstand in the PanAm building each week.  (Where?)  Recently Al Jazeera bought Current TV as a way of gaining entrée into the American media market.  So far the response seems to be a cold shoulder reception.  Copies of Paris Match are available in Berkeley Public Library each week, but due to postal delivery the latest issue may be a tad outdated.

Are foreign language magazines (and points of view) a superfluous, unnecessary expenditure in a country that has renamed French Fries as Freedom Fries?  Has Freedom of Speech become an expensive, useless luxury in a time of austerity budgets?

Yes, you can use your Interenets connection to read foreign language web sites if you can read and understand sites using foreign languages or can fiddle with the “translate this page” option, but the few that do can easily be dismissed as unpatriotic conspiracy theory nuts.

Reportage in Washington has become a breathless scramble for spin rendering journalism into a copy of coverage of Hollywood luminaries.  When was the last time you encountered news using the phrase “an investigation has revealed” rather than “according to a reliable source”?

Rogue pundits out in the boondocks have as much chance of uncovering a scoop as do the members of the in crowd in D. C.   Neither group is going to get anything but announcements and news releases because everything that happens now in D. C. happens behind closed doors and journalists sit back and wait for the official press release to be delivered to their desk.

While the World’s Laziest Journalist was in the process of writing this column, we encountered a used copy of James Fallows’ 1996 book “Breaking the News (How the Media Undermine American Democracy)” for fifty cents.  We have read that book before but our copy of it is still out on loan somewhere in the San Francisco Bay area so we bought a new used copy to refresh our memory.

If well educated Americans didn’t heed Fallows’ 1996 warning what would be the use for this columnist to finish writing this column in early 2013?  On a cold day with rain in the forecast for Berkeley CA, it boils down to a line from “Rebel without a Cause:”  “We gotta do something.”

On page 74, Fallows starts off chapter three by saying:  “Any reporter born before 1965 did not go into journalism for the money.”

Was he trying to imply that Robert Capa got his self kilt for altruistic reasons?

Could stories about how the small coalition of military, bureaucrats, police, and clergy in Spain, who tamped down the demands for better condition from the farmers and workers in the mid Thirties, be a warning to the protesters wearing Guy Falk masks to the Occupy events?

Isn’t it enough for Fox News to run a quote from the President saying that holding the debt ceiling hostage won’t be tolerated and a quote from John Boner (from the codpiece party) saying “We’ll see about that!”? Isn’t that a marvelous example of fair and balanced journalism?  Aren’t the buttinskis who inject any commentary way out of line?

Do the liberal pundits think that Americans have to be told that if an order doesn’t carry an implied threat, it is useless?  If a fellow receives an order from a boss, a sergeant in the Army, or his girlfriend there is an implied threat behind the order.  If you don’t follow the boss’ order; you will be fired.  If you don’t follow the sergeants’ orders you won’t get a weekend pass.  If you don’t follow a girlfriends’ orders . . . something bad will happen.

When a kid delivers an ultimatum and indicates that if the threat isn’t accepted, he will eat worms how much gravitas does it carry?  How much serious consideration does it inspire?  If the Republicans hold the debt ceiling hostage, will President Obama hold a press conference and eat worms?

If America has a debt crisis on Super Bowl weekend (or thereabouts) will anybody care?  Will the Yankees finally win Super Bowl rings?  Can the Super Bowl and Oscar™ events be compared to a chance to dance to “our song” on the Titanic?

Is Jim Morrison’s wish to see anarchy reign supreme in America about to be granted?

Recent news reports indicate that there may have been as many as 400,000 unjustified home foreclosures.  (How many foreclosed homes were owned by journalists?)  Does that upset journalists?  Fallows quotes Michael Kinsley, of Crossfire, as saying:  “Being paid more than you are worth is the American dream.”

Now the disk jockey will play “Born to lose,” Iggy Pop’s “I wanna be your dog,” and Frank Zappa’s “It can’t happen here.”  We have to go see about joining the SF Press Club.  Have a “the check is in the mail” type week.

Movies, food, and travel

January 2, 2013

For someone who has not had a drink of booze for more than years, starting the new year by having breakfast at Lefty O’Doul’s sports bar in San Francisco might sound a tad misguided, but the World’s Laziest Journalist’s New Year’s Resolution for Thirteen is:  “Have more fun!”  So, a very good breakfast, with good (regular not Irish) coffee for a wee bit more $ than we are used to paying was in keeping with our game plan for the New Year.

After breakfast, we discovered that our plan to proceed to a movie theater complex and view Quentin Tarintino’s new movie was moving ahead of schedule and we could see the 11:30 a.m. show for a bargain matinee price and our budget could recoup the money we had spent on the (IMHO) lavish breakfast.

While watching the story of a freed slave who becomes a bounty hunter in Pre-Civil War America, we saw an opportunity to write a column that would suggest that the saga of mean slave owners could be interpreted as a parable for contemporary America with the plantation owners being the one percenters and the slaves seen as the exploited middle class and poor workers.  Some comparisons with a spaghetti Western, with some of Ennio Morricone’s music, could be thrown into the hypothetical column.

Watching the slaves fight with each other, literally as well as figuratively speaking, we were reminded of the Republican strategy for holding the Democratic Party at bay:  “Divide and Conquer!”  The Democrats fall for it every time!

Would “(Gun)Violence is as American as cherry pie” be a good headline for such a review?

We could do some pop culture nit-picking and point out that at one point what seems to be a Winchester 73 rifle is shown in the story that takes place before the Civil War started.

Writing such a column would be too much work and be a betrayal of our intention to ignore politics during a year in which no politician in Washington D. C. faces reelection and just focus on pop culture as a way of keeping our New Year’s Resolution.

Around Easter time, gyms will start running TV ads suggesting that viewers get in shape for summer excursions to the beach this summer.  (It is summer in Australia and folks going to the January White Sales can wear short sleeve shirts and other summer attire.)  Thing of it is anyone who has ever started toward that goal on New Year’s Day knows that exercise is like a train pulling out of the station.  It is recommended (for good reason) that people start with very easy workouts because their bodies aren’t ready for a long workout session that will burn up <I>beaucoup</I> calories.

The gyms should be running the ads now that truthfully advise that folks who start now and keep at it faithfully will just be starting to show results by the time tax season is over and have a small but realistic chance of showing some results by the time the July 4th picnic is being served.  Those ads will run about the time Ascension Thursday arrives and most of the people who pay to join a gym will have given up the effort by the time Independence Day arrives.

Easter of 2013 should coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the film “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and for fact checking purposes we viewed it on New Year’s Eve and noticed that the star studded comedy is still funny and that the story of a wild scramble for $ is ripe for comparisons to the current situation in the USA.  A group of travelers learn that they can acquire a large sum of money (an obvious metaphor for happiness) “under the W.”  Was this a very accurate prediction of the philosophy of George W. Bush in action or what?  So maybe we’ll have to permit some occasional political commentary to seep into our year of living (as much as our meager budget will allow) lavishly in decedent splendor.

On New Year’s day of 2013, a Perils of Pauline finish avoided the financial disaster that the journalists in the mainstream media have been (enthusiastically?) predicting and so the politicians have nothing to do until its time for a replay later this year in December so it would only be an exercise in wasted effort to write about politics before then.

Based on past experience we think it may be too late to start applying for press credentials to cover this year’s Oscar™ Awards Ceremony but then again (as we were once advised) it never hurts to ask.

Maybe we should start now to apply for credentials to cover this year’s Le Mans sports car race?

Maybe this is the year we will be able to scratch a ride in a DC 3 airplane off our bucketlist.

Later this month the Noir City film festival will take place in San Francisco.  Usually a film noir movie opens showing a guy who is doomed.  Maybe we could use some pessimistic pundits’ quotes to compare him to the USA?  Whoops!  Staying away from political commentary is going to be challenge to our will power.

If Jeb Bush is going to jump into the 2016 Presidential race maybe we could do a column with a headline about the Bush Dynasty’s will to power?

See how easy it is to get sidetracked?

Maybe we could report on this year’s installment of the annual motorcycle event in Sturgis?

Could this be the year that we finally get to Hemingway Days in Key West?

We have had a ride in a B-17 G bomber.  To be fair and balanced, should we go to a gathering of warbirds and get a ride on a B-24?

We’ve been to Casablanca, Kalgoorlie, and Paris but we have never visited Paris in the month of April.  For sure, we would have to break into the piggy bank to write a first hand account about that.

One thing for sure.  We are not going to write a first hand account about what it feels like to go sky diving.  We are limiting our fact checking to repeated viewings of “Point Break” and that all.  Then again . . .

Two of our high school classmates have indicated that (finally) they might come and visit California!  We have been exploring the Golden State for a good many years.  On our first visit to Venice Beach, some activists were trying to advocate for ending the war in Vietnam.  (Some of them still are.)  We saw Bobby Kennedy campaign in Cali for getting the Presidential nomination.  We have not exhausted the list of “must see” locations in California.  I guess we’re going to have to offer to help either or both these friends get to the sequoia trees.  If they like the outdoor stuff, we can heartily recommend a visit to Yosemite.  Matter for fact, if they insist we’d go back for a second visit to see if it has change much in the last 42 years.  (Once, in a letter to a friend in Vietnam, we achieved a life time best with a quadruple end patentees bit of punctuation.  [Maybe we can beat that record in a 2013 column?])  The Golden Gate Bridge always looks very impressive, even in snapshots taken by folks who don’t know diddley about taking good pictures.

Our trusty Nikon Coolpix seems to be getting a bit worn out (we know that feeling) and may need a replacement.  In three years, we have take a ship load of digital images (25,000?) but we are ready to go on a new photo safari when the opportunity presents itself.

Four years ago, when we went to Australia seeking fun, quality photos, and perceptive and insightful insights into life, we had secret hopes of building a bigger and better journalism career, but now that a year that will be an “eye of the hurricane” time period has arrived, we are going to take a sabbatical year and just enjoy life and play things fast and easy just for kicks and giggles.  Our columns will be reports on pop culture items and our progress.

It’s like the character that Tom Cruise played in Risky Business said:  “Sometimes you just gottta say ‘What the fuck!’”

Now the disk jockey will play Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser,” Jody Reynold’s “Endless Sleep,” and Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”  We have to go fact check the price for a hostel bunk in Paris during the month of April.  Have a (as Aunty Mame used to say)  “Life is a banquet and some poor suckers are starving” (even on a tight budget [they say that the best things in life are free]) type week and a happy new year.