Thursday, July 31, 2014

American Sniper



I hadn't given much thought to the story of Chris Kyle until I saw some of the anger being vented over the recent decision to award Jesse Ventura $1.8 million in a defamation lawsuit against the estate of Chris Kyle.  Many felt that Ventura should have dropped the lawsuit when Kyle was shot and killed at a shooting range in Texas last February.  Instead, Jesse proceeded, naming Kyle's wife in the lawsuit, since she was now the executor of his estate.  This seems to be what has galled most people.  Not only is Chris Kyle considered a genuine American hero, but the gall of Ventura to go after his wife!

The death of Kyle was indeed tragic.  Nicholas Schmidle tries to make sense of it in this article for the New Yorker, published in June of last year. After a lengthy piece on Kyle and how he came to be regarded as a live action hero, Schmidle uses the second half of the article to explore Eddie Ray Routh's troubled psyche and how it proved fatal to Chris Kyle, who thought he was helping the young former Marine out by taking him to a shooting range to "blow off steam."

It seems Kyle never bothered to explore Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) in any depth.  He, like many Navy Seals, felt he was immune to it, or at least better able to cope with it than any other soldiers.  He didn't need some shrink to ease him back into civilian life.  After all, he was wanted, not only by his wife and children, but by others who were more than willing to further his career.

He got the starter money to begin Craft International from his book deal.  The company specializes in training federal, state and local law enforcement in combat techniques, or "turnkey mission solutions" as the website calls it.  He had also served as a personal body guard to Sarah Palin, was known as an ardent supporter of the second amendment, and offered numerous paid speaking engagements.  He even appeared in a reality show, "Stars Earn Stripes" where celebrities, including Todd Palin, get a chance to show their mettle along side combat heroes.

However, Kyle is probably best known for taking out "Mr. Scruff Face," who he later identified as Jesse Ventura on the O'Reilly Factor.  Kyle claims that Ventura was trash talking the war in Iraq, then President Bush and his elite Navy Seals at an Irish pub in Coronado, California, a favorite hangout for former Seals.  Ventura is a former Seal himself.  Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) actually, the Vietnam War forerunner to the Seals.  Kyle depicted this scene in this book along with other questionable scenes, which Schmidle noted, that seemed to serve no other purpose than inflating his image as the "Punisher," his favorite comic book character.

All this proved irresistible to a conservative audience who revels in such live action figures.  The book has sold over a million copies.  Bradley Cooper bought the movie rights and plans to star as Kyle, with none other than Clint Eastwood as director.

Pretty hard for Ventura to compete against this kind of celebrity, but it seems that Kyle used the alleged 2006 bar fight as a way to gain entry, telling the story long before he published it.  Ventura had fallen out of favor with the Right Wing conservatives over his comments on the Iraq War, and who better to fill the void than a brash young Navy Seal with 160 confirmed kills, America's deadliest sniper.  Kyle was a living, breathing Pat Tillman and no doubt could have ascended great heights in the Republican Party, which he actively subscribed to.  Schmidle points to the incongruities in this narrative, notably Kyle's tendency to invent stories to suit his purposes.  This very much seemed to be the case with the bar fight, as the civil jury ruled in Ventura's favor, and also found that the chapter should be clipped from the book.

However, the much more compelling story is that of Eddie Ray Routh, who like many returning veterans, suffered terribly from PTSD and needed professional help.  His mother thought Chris Kyle could help her son out since the former Seal had made it his cause to help troubled vets make the transition into civilian life. This was after she felt her son didn't get the attention he needed from the VA.  Kyle may have had his heart in the right place, but he clearly underestimated the dangerous effects of PTSD, as has the VA.   Kyle himself wasn't able to fully subdue the symptoms of PTSD himself, as his wife related to Schmidle.  These vets can be walking time bombs, which Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield found out on February 2, 2013.

Chris Kyle was given a send-off fit for a war hero with the Palins, Randy Travis and other leading conservative lights on hand for his memorial at Dallas Stadium.  Meanwhile, Eddie Ray Routh remains in jail awaiting trial over a year after the incident took place.  The troubled young vet faces possible execution, although more likely he will be consigned to a psychiatric ward, as the court is having a very hard time coming to terms with his rambling confession.

It is tragic.  Chris Kyle certainly didn't deserve this fate.  At the same time, he was no superhero, although he has already been bronzed and put on display in at the Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Full Frontal Violence



Madeleine Albright recently said "the world is a mess" due to the violence in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Israel.  After a period of relative quiet, the Obama administration has been hit on all sides with violent outbreaks that it seems powerless to control without intervention.  This is something the President desperately wants to avoid and is actively seeking diplomatic solutions.

Unfortunately for him, he has run up against brick walls in Putin and Netanyahu, both of whom have felt that their adversaries have crossed the proverbial red line.  Putin has a way of moving the wall, suggesting reconciliation is possible while at the same time blaming the US for inciting the troubles in Ukraine.  Netanyahu is not so nuanced, releasing information on negotiations to the Israeli press, which has infuriated the White House.  But, the Obama administration has to walk a fine line on this one, as most Americans stand resolutely behind Israel in its full frontal assault of Gaza, which has left over 1000 Palestinians dead.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza
Sorting out the roots of the violence is not easy.  David Remnick takes a stab at Gaza in The New Yorker, painting all sides as aggressors.  However, latest revelations indicate that Hamas was never behind the abduction and killing of the three Israeli teenagers, but rather a rogue cell, first reported in the States by Buzzfeed, and now picked up by the wider media world.  Al Jazeera had put this story forward days before, but apparently no one was buying it.  If so, this would make Netanyahu's invasion a war crime, but it doesn't seem that Bibi's administration is worrying about the consequences of its actions.  He simply seized the opportunity to launch an all out attack on the beleaguered residents of Gaza, who essentially live in a prison camp.

Of course, to read the mainstream media, Hamas is the bane of all evil and should be rooted out under whatever pretense the Israeli government comes up with, just like al Qaeda.  If these wars on terror have taught us anything, these militant groups weather the most intense shelling and live to see another day.  Israel was unable to root out Hezbollah in its war on Lebanon in 2006.  It didn't save Olmert's job either.  His party lost control of the Knesset three years later, largely because the incursion was viewed as a failure.  So, here is Netanyahu in the exact same position.

A barricade of car bumpers in Donetsk
Meanwhile, Putin plays a game of cat and mouse with the United States over Ukraine.  The downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 seems to have put him on a bit of a retreat, but fighting continues in the Donetsk region and Russia appears to be continuing to supply the insurgents, even if Moscow has no plans of annexing the troubled region.  In fact Ukrainian forces have taken back most of the province, with the insurgent group holding onto the administrative capital.  Yet, Russia is poised to send in massive reinforcements to prop up this regime if necessary.

A similar situation is playing out in Syria and Iraq, as Sunni factions under the banner of ISIS have taken over provincial governments and are even threatening a march on Baghdad, which would undermine everything the United States fought to gain in Iraq.   Not surprisingly we have heard roars from the conservative vanguard in America to send in reinforcements as the fate of the free world apparently depends on keeping Iraq out of Sunni hands.

ISIS on the March
For some it appears there is nothing like a "good war."  I guess Halliburton could use a shot in the arm.  It doesn't matter where.  If not Iraq, then Syria or Ukraine.  These chicken hawks seem confident that Israel can take care of itself as long as the Obama administration doesn't meddle in affairs.  The only problem is that the longer this siege of Gaza goes on the more incensed Muslims will be in other parts of the world and take their anger out on others.

Our inability to bring Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table has resulted in a crisis of confidence.  Granted, Netanyahu is not one who is easy to bargain with,  but an effort needs to be made and the Obama administration has pretty much chosen to leave Palestine off the table.  As a result, Israel has continued its expansion into the West Bank, making the borders even more difficult to compromise on.  In fact, there are those within Neyanyahu's administration, and probably Bibi himself, who have no interest in negotiating any borders, seeing the West Bank as an integral part of Israel.

Yep, Maddy, the world is a mess, largely because we have chosen to defer these pressing issues rather than deal with them head on.  The world is a violent place, and getting more violent as tensions increase.  About all we seem capable of doing is containing the violence, much like we have done in the past, hoping that eventually the warring factions will tire and agree to a temporary ceasefire.  Sound familiar?

You Betcha



She should call it CSN -- the Crazy Sarah Network.  It seems some persons can never get enough of the Sweetheart of Wasilla, who launched her own internet channel this week to the delight of fans.  She leads her blog, er channel, with a banner that includes the ever-growing national debt and how many days left in the Obama administration.  She also has a word of the day -- factious -- noting her dissenting nature.  Facetious would have probably been a better word.

The debate of the day is "The Truth About the War in Israel" but unfortunately you have to become a member to join the thread.  $9.95 per month thank you.  She also asks you to send her questions, videos and what not, but you guessed it, you have to be a member to do that too.  She does provide a few free samples, like anniversary wishes to her parents, "53 years of wedded bliss," and a link to her daughter's blog, "BristolPalin: Life.  Family.  Alaska."  Apparently it is free.  And, of course there is an attack on Obama, claiming he has an "addiction" known as OPM or Other People's Money.  How clever!

The video clips vary in length from one-in-a-half minutes to a 7-minute clip on what it is like to be "Mom-in-Chief," as she takes care of her son, Trig, who has Down Syndrome.   This is really more a self-promoting blog than a channel.  It is hard to think of this as serious news, but her launch party has once again thrust her into the "lamestream media."  Virtually every media outlet is covering her debut, although she wants it known that she has no time for "media filters" and asks you to see the Real Sarah live and unplugged.  You have to wonder how many deluded folks are going to pay for this on a monthly basis, but she probably has "maverick" plans for those who pay a year or two in advance.

It seems she had this project in the works before offering herself as a new panelist on The View, anticipating that Whoopi would say no.  The Sportsman Channel carries her all new original series "Amazing America."  She had been dumped by Discovery (parent company of TLC) after a short run of Sarah Palin's Alaska a few years ago.  One would like to think the facebook "boycott" played a role in this but it was probably just bad ratings.  You can't fault her for still trying to cash in on her celebrity, especially among Teabaggers, who continue to flock to her rallies.  Maybe Palinheads would be a better name.  Just look at Mama Grizzly exhorting her following like a rock star.

That's more of Sarah than I imagine any of you wanted to see, although I expect you will be hearing lots more about her on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, as Jon and Stephen will now have a bottomless well of jokes.




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Temptress in the Tea Pot

It is safe to say that The Harding Affair won't generate as much interest as the latest book on Hemingway's romances, Hotel Florida, but the "steamy" love letters between Warren Harding and Carrie Phillips will go on display at the Library of Congress after having been sealed for the past 50 years.

Harding and Phillips were both married at the time, which would have made the letters much better news fodder back in the late teens than they are now.  Harding ran successfully for President in 1920.  He wanted a "return to normalcy" after WWI and what had been seen as the much too "liberal" Wilson administration.  Such a torrid love affair would not have fit with the staid image he cultivated of himself, but seemed to be the one of the few things worth noting from his conservative life.  

There were other affairs too, including one with Nan Britton, whose daughter she claimed was his.  The GOP did its best to keep these juicy stories under wraps in the 1920 election.  Nan was certainly the most fetching of the two, and 31 years younger than the Republican presidential nominee.


His administration was probably best known for the Teapot Dome Scandal, which ushered in oil influence peddling in the 1920s.   However, his tenure was cut short by a stroke of apoplexy on August 2, 1923, just two-and-a-half years into his first term.  There are conspiracy theories however regarding his untimely death.  Maybe Baba O'Reilly should explore these in his next book "Killing Harding."

Harding was succeeded by the equally staid Calvin Coolidge, presiding over perhaps the least memorable period in U.S. Presidents, 1920-1932, with the election of Herbert Hoover in 1928.  Big Business reigned supreme, with virtually nothing to regulate their interests, resulting in the worst stock market crash in history.

James D. Robenalt has certainly added a lot of intrigue to the romance.  He claims that Phillips and her daughter became German spies during WWI, and may have conspired with Harding to keep him out of the Presidential race in 1916, as it was in Germany's interest to keep the US out of the war.  Robenalt would like us to think that "counterfactual arguments abound" in the over 800 pages of correspondence between the two, but it strikes me as just a hook to read his book.

Monday, July 28, 2014

In Search of the Perfect Wave



50 years ago, Bruce Brown kicked off his epic surfing trip around the world, filming Robert August and Mike Hynson as they checked out one magical beach after another, many of them for the first time.  There was a wonderful scene in Ghana, where the two world-class surfers taught a local village to ride waves on their long boards.

The idea of The Endless Summer was to literally spend a year, January 1964 to January 1965, surfing around the globe, never losing the spirit of summer.  Pretty easy to do in the sub-tropics and tropics, where much of the film was shot.  They seemed to find their perfect wave at Cape St. Francis in the Natal Province of South Africa, a virtually endless wave befitting the theme of the movie.


Funny enough, the first recorded notes of surfing were by the crew of the HMS Endeavor, who witnessed surfing in Hawaii in 1796.  Captain James Cook really got around.  It was called he'enalu.  Naturally, the chief of the village had the best board, made from the best tree, and no doubt it weighed a ton.  The ruling classes picked out the best spots, and may have offered lessons to the crew, since they would have initially been regarded as honored guests.

The sport has grown around the world thanks in large part to the popularity of surfing in the 60s.  It was featured on Wide World of Sports, with the sport quickly spreading to South Africa, Australia and other places around the world, although these countries had a surfing history of their own, which the boys encountered.


It was an immensely popular film and still widely regarded as the best of the genre, even if surfing has reached incredible new heights as witnessed in this epic wave by big wave master, Laird Hamilton, who was born in 1964.  Movies have tried to capture the experience, but Riding Giants is probably the best "big wave" film as what you see is real.

Bruce Brown did a follow up to his film in 1994, repeating the excursion in large part with new surfers, but also stopping off at new points like Kodiak Island, Alaska, which looked like a cold and dangerous experience.  It was nice to see Bruce still had his trademark humor.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Israel: The 51st State


Truman with David Ben Gurion and Abba Eban, 1949

Back in 1945, Zionist lobbyists began pressing Harry Truman to recognize Israeli statehood.  Apparently, Truman held out for a joint-Palestinian-Israeli solution but as the pressure grew Truman gave into the lobbyists and recognized the State of Israel in 1948.  In a new book, Genesis, John Judis explores the roots of the pro-Israel lobby in United States and its ever-increasing influence over American politics.

Since 1948, each president has had to wrestle with the hostilities and wars that came with that decision.  US Foreign Aid has poured into Israel each year, starting with $100 million in 1949, roughly $1 billion when adjusted for inflation.  Today we pay out a little over $3 billion in military aid per annum, plus we have an extensive free trade agreement that imports roughly $20 billion in Israeli goods each year, while exporting approximately $10 billion.  A surplus that clearly works in Israel's favor.

Israel isn't exactly a ward of the United States, but it benefits heavily from American support, especially in the UN, where the US consistently overrules any international measure leveled against Israel with its veto power on the Security Council.  Efforts to make Israel abide by UN resolutions regarding the Palestinian territories have ended miserably.



In 2002, Israel began constructing a barrier wall, following a Palestinian Intifada in the wake of another round of failed Peace Talks.   The wall has grown to over 300 miles along the West Bank border.  It carves out parts of the 1967 Palestinian border for Israeli settlements, and in many cases closes off parts of Palestine from each other.  The wall has been universally condemned but no matter.

Gaza is similarly closed off from Israel, yet as we have seen in this latest round of air strikes, Palestinians have bored under the wall to get to the other side, as their economic livelihood depends almost entirely on Israel.  Some of these tunnels date back to antiquity and are only now being discovered by Israeli defense forces in this latest effort to destroy Hamas once and for all.

As Jimmy Carter wrote in his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Israel has segregated Palestinians much in the same way South Africa once did blacks and other ethnic groups, using them essentially as a cheap labor pool, while not providing any of the benefits of living in the State, except for those fortunate few who stayed in Israel proper following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.  Carter had been the only president to strike a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world with the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, but attempts to build on this historic accord have largely gone for naught.

Bethlehem, located in the West Bank

It seems most Americans have accepted Israel's belligerent position regarding Palestinians since 2002. Israel is seen as an extension of ourselves.  We readily identify with the way Israel has built itself up from the desert over the last 66 years and regard them as protector of the Holy Lands, even though most of the significant Christian religious sites are in the West Bank, with many Palestinians regarding themselves as Christian.  Even in Gaza, there are approximately 1000 Palestinian Christians attending a Greek Orthodox Church that dates back to the 12th century.  Yet, the conservative fundamentalism that drives the Republican Party today has little or no sympathy for these Christians who find themselves under bombardment by the IDF.

Like Tea Party politics, it is easier to view these conflicts in terms of black and white.  American Evangelical Christians have thrown their full support behind Israel for whatever reasons of their own.  Israel has actively courted these religious conservative groups over the years as Timothy Weber illustrates in his book, On the Road to Armageddon.  Hard to believe given the virulent anti-Semitism that once ran trough these groups and still runs through many of them.

In many ways, Israel is our 51st state with a very powerful political lobby that not only influences the Republican Party, but the Democratic Party as well.  I don't think Harry Truman had any idea what he set in motion all those years ago.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Plagiarism in Politics



Acting U.S. Senator John Walsh is the latest victim of "oppo-research," a new level in research into political candidates and opponents that digs into virtually every aspect of a person's life, including his academic records.  As it turns out, Walsh plagiarized large sections of his 2007 Master's thesis and now finds himself in trouble, not just politically but with the university.

Last year, it didn't take Rachel Maddow very long to root out the source of Paul Rand's comments on eugenics, catching him quoting from a wiki page on the movie, Gattaca, adding the word "liberal."  This turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg, as Rand often doesn't attribute his sources.  He claims he was just being "sloppy."

There was also a big brouhaha over where Obama's 2008 campaign slogan, "Yes we can" came from.  Many conservative sources attributed it to Bob the Builder, but it has been used so many times that one would consider it in the public domain.  Cesar Chavez used the Spanish form, "Si se puede" as the motto for the United Farm Workers back in the 70s, and one could probably find even earlier examples.

Plagiarism charges are nothing new.  Even Cicero was accused of cribbing Demosthenes, among others, for his rhetorical style and content.  That could be said of most politicians, who usually rely on historical models, whether they choose to reference them or not.

However, Walsh failed to properly attribute quotes in an academic paper, which is a serious no-no.  It got Joe Biden into a whole lot of trouble back in 1988, when it was revealed during his Presidential campaign that he had failed a 1965 introductory law course due to plagiarism.  The supersleuth now as then was the New York Times.  But, even the NYTimes editorial staff has been accused of plagiarism, notably Paul Krugman.  It seems no one is immune from such accusations.

In the end, one wonders if it really matters except maybe in the court of law, where family members of Randy California tried to block the re-issue of Led Zeppelin IV because they claimed Jimmy Page stole his famous riff in Stairway to Heaven from Randy's intro to Taurus.  The case was thrown out.

That should be the case with many of these political plagiarism charges, but it seems that politicians will use anything to get a leg up on their rivals, especially in hotly contested Senate races where the Republicans hope to regain the majority in the U.S. Senate.  Fortunately for Walsh these charges came early enough where he has a chance to rebound from them, provided he doesn't stick his foot any deeper into his mouth.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Raising Arizona


I remember my first trip across America when I was no more than 6 years old, stopping off at Old Tucson to watch one of their famous staged gunfights.  The studio dates back to 1939 and is still used today, although its glory days when Gene Autry, Glenn Ford and Jimmy Stewart rode into town are long since over.  Tombstone was the last movie of any significance to be shot at the studio in 1993.

Still, that spirit lives on, moreso than some persons would like it to, as Arizona has placed itself prominently in the news with its border clashes and its virtually non-existent gun laws.  You can purchase almost any type of gun today and carry it openly, just like in the days of the Old West.

Much of Arizona came in with the Western territories in 1848, the spoils of the Mexican War.  The Gadsden Purchase completed the deal in 1853, forming what is now the border with Mexico.  In 1862, Arizona was given its own territorial government apart from New Mexico, and immediately threw its sympathies behind the Confederate States.  In a bold move, Jefferson Davis actually trade to establish a trade route to California, but this ambitious quest was thwarted at Glorieta Pass.  Arizona has been fighting a "border war" with Mexico ever since.

President Taft approving Arizona statehood
There were several attempts to gain statehood, the most contentious of which was an omnibus statehood bill in 1903 that would have given statehood to Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona but it too was blocked.  Arizona would simply have to wait its tour, coming into the Union of February 14, 1912, a month after New Mexico and four-and-a-half years after Oklahoma.

The state has had a colorful history and a lot of contentious moments.  Probably its most contentious moment was when Barry Goldwater chose to defy the conventional wisdom of the Republican Party and vote against the landmark Civil Rights legislation of 1964.  Turns out he was just a little ahead of his times, as eventually the GOP would use this same tainted well of emotions to lure the Dixiecrats to its party and sweep the South in the 1972 election.

Goldwater was known as "Mr. Conservative."  He had previously rejected the New Deal and anything else that smelled of big government.  He was born in Phoenix when it was nothing more than a territorial governor's seat.  His brand of politics was popular among the Libertarian Republicans, who strongly believed in a small federal government and the balance of power resting in the states.  To Goldwater's credit, he didn't see a place for religion in politics, which would put him outside mainstream conservatism today.

Arizona struggled with the legacy of Civil Rights.  It refused to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which even the Southern states had begrudgingly accepted.  Governor Bruce Babbitt had tried to invoke the holiday by executive order, but it was similarly revoked by the succeeding governor Evan Mecham.  Finally in late 1992 the holiday was approved by referendum after the NFL threatened to pull the Super Bowl from Sun Devil Stadium the following year.

It is also one of only two states not to recognize Daylight Savings Time, although the Navajo Reservation, which engulfs a large northern section of the state does, making it kind of cumbersome crossing borders within the state.

Probably the most enduring image of the state remains Monument Valley as shot both by Edward Sheriff Curtis and John Ford.  I'm sure Curtis' sepia prints inspired Ford, who would use the iconic buttes in several of his films, notably The Searchers, which was filmed on location in 1956.  He was one of the first directors at the time to include native Americans in his films and had a particular affinity for the Navajo.  He airlifted food into their reservation when they experienced one of their worst winters in December, 1948, and the Navajo never forgot Ford's generosity.

Edward Sheriff Curtis, Monument Valley, ca. 1900

I had the opportunity to work one summer at Canyon de Chelly in 1988, which is part of the Navajo reservation.  The beautiful canyon hosts some of the most extant cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, dating back to the 10th century.  The nearby Hopi mesas also date to the same time with Walpi the oldest continuous settlement in North America, dating to approximately 900 CE.  The Navajos, or Dine as they call themselves, were immigrants who arrived in the Colorado Plateau sometime around the 14th century, long after the pueblo builders.   And, of course there is the Grand Canyon which John Wesley Powell explored in 1869 during his geographic expedition of 1869.  This canyon has long been home to the Havasupai, whom Powell encountered along the way.

It is odd that a state which embraces its rich cultural legacy took so long to accept MLK Day, but I guess this is part of its independent nature.  This would help explain some of the recent decisions in state legislature, openly defying the federal government, especially in regard to immigration.

The state has literally tried to take the law into its own hands, infamously represented by Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, who used racial profiling to track down perceived illegal immigrants, resulting in numerous lawsuits brought against his sheriff's department, and eventually the US. Department of Justice stepped in to investigate the matter.  Arpaio also actively challenged President Obama's birth certificate.  All this made him a folk hero among the conservative right wing, and has earned six consecutive terms as sheriff.  His antics, however, have made him "the most expensive sheriff in America."

Sprawling Phoenix
More than a century after its statehood, Arizona very much remains an enigma.  It has attracted persons from far and wide, yet remains staunchly conservative in its views.  This spirit was probably best captured in the Coen Brothers movie, Raising Arizona.  Since 1912, its population has risen exponentially from 204,000 to well over 6 million inhabitants, with the vast majority of that population centered in Maricopa County.  This is the Phoenix metropolitan area. Tucson is further to the South in Pima County.  Together these counties account for nearly 80% of the population.

The sizable Hispanic population doesn't seem to have much sway in state politics, largely because they have been conveniently isolated as a result of the gerrymandering that followed the pivotal 2010 midterms.  Since then the state has been battling with federal courts over the shape of the districts.

Somehow this state has managed to defy its limits, but one wonders how much longer in can do that, as this is a state (at least the southern part) literally running out of water, with much of its fresh water supply coming from the Colorado River Basin, which is drying up.  John Wesley Powell had foreseen these problems, but unfortunately the state chose to ignore his comprehensive water management plans and now has to rely more and more on water treatment plants.

At some point Arizona's conservative intransigence has to give way to more pragmatic concerns.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Speak up, I can't hear you




In 1878, Thomas Edison augmented the megaphone so that hard-of-hearing persons could pick up vibrations and possibly hear what is being said around them.  He came up with this unusual device, which quickly garnered attention around the world, including New Zealand, where this article stems from.  It sure would be nice to hear from all those looking in ; )

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Neverending Debate



The "debate" lives on 89 years later.  It is worth looking at the comments to this anniversary note, just to get a cross section of opinion, as the theory of evolution remains a deeply divisive issue in America.  More striking is that Americans are less accepting of evolution than any country in Europe except for Turkey.  So, it seems we have allowed this "debate" to rage on, while other developed countries have long since moved on.

Trying to find the reasons why are complex, but it seems that it largely suits the conservative political establishment to use evolution as one of its whipping posts, as it continues to promote a staunchly conservative religious view of society.  Roughly 3 in 10 Americans take the Bible literally, with conservatives actively promoting their view of "creationism" in one form or another.

Interestingly, Creationists are accepting dinosaurs even though there is no specific mention of such beasts in the Bible.  Recently, Michael Peroutka donated a complete skeleton of an Allosaurus to the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which "religious archaeologists" date at 5000 years.  Apparently, dinosaurs weren't invited on Noah's Ark.

There is an entire industry devoted to "proving" the events in the Bible, with such archaeologists roaming the earth in search of tell tale signs.  There is also a specific field of "flood geology" devoted to proving the Biblical flood took place.

All this pseudo-scientific research helps give credence to Biblical events, reinforcing long-held beliefs.  There is even a separate group that promotes "intelligent design," which is willing to accept an older Earth but still insists on God's hand in shaping events over the eras, kind of like that obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Randy Olson had fun with some of these theorists in Flock of Dodos, but he also notes that scientists are often their own worst enemies by adopting a belligerent attitude when challenged.


The number of Americans who do take the Bible literally has dropped considerably since 1925, although that number plateaued around 1992, thanks to religious groups like the Moral Majority and the enormous tele-evangelism network, which continue to promote Creationism.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There is a house in New Orleans ...



Recently I read that Dave Von Ronk was given credit for the definitive version of the song, which Dylan swiped from him before he had a chance to record it.  Then came the Animals classic version in 1964, which Alan Price claimed was from a 16th century English folk song about a Soho brothel,but in the song the band specifically referenced New Orleans.   You have to figure Alan heard Dylan sing it, as it was on his 1962 debut album.

As it turns out, the song does have deep roots but is generally perceived to be an American folk song first recorded by an Appalachian duo in 1934, and soon after by Alan Lomax in 1937, also in the Appalachian region. Both refer to a house in New Orleans.  It was known as The Rising Sun Blues.  Along the way, Woodie Guthrie, Josh White, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger all covered the song.  Even Andy Griffith sampled it in 1959.  Von Ronk says it was the Lomax recording that inspired him, but you figure he heard these other versions too.  I have to say I like the Josh White version the best.

Ted Anthony charts the long journey in Chasing the Rising Sun, illustrating how a folk song like this drifts through time and becomes part of the great American folk treasury and in turn adopted abroad.  Gregory Issacs did a Reggae version of the song in 1992.

One of my favorite versions is The Blind Boys of Alabama using the music behind the lyrics of Amazing Grace, turning it into a spiritual.  Most see the House of the Rising Son as referring to a brothel, but I suppose you can find salvation in the lowliest of places.

There may or may not have been a brothel like that described in the song.  I haven't read Anthony's book to find out.   It doesn't really matter.  It is one of those songs that evokes so many images, like those of E.J. Bellocq.

Share your favorite versions!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

On the road again



The Johnny Appleseed exhibit is going on the road, like the man himself, to inform new generations of the man behind the legend.  John Chapman was a late 18th and early 19th century nurseryman who did introduce apple trees to the Midwest, but he also was part of the Awakening of the time, spreading the Swedenborgian Church through religious pamphlets.  So, those apples came at a price.

One of the earliest national accounts of Chapman was in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1871, which was essentially a biography of the man replete with engravings.    The image of him in a tin pot hat stuck.  Chapman was known for living a spartan life, but he often charged for his seeds so it wasn't like he took an oath of poverty.

Over the years, a virtual treasure trove of memorabilia has been collected, and his image has been illustrated countless times, including the most memorable one of him on The Saturday Evening Post.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A flight over troubled air space

It didn't take John McCain very long to point the finger at Russia in the apparent rocket attack of Malaysian Airlines MH-17.  Those are pretty bold words considering 23 Americans were initially noted on board, thereby making the bombing an act of war.  Since then only one American has been officially named, a Dutch-American Quinn Lucas, who was traveling as a Dutch citizen.  You would think that Mackie, who was shot down himself over Vietnam and spent 6 years in a prison camp, would be a little more cautious in his statements, but he just let his words fly, venting all his rage on Putin before any investigation is carried out to determine who was responsible for this malicious attack.


Initial evidence does indeed point to the separatists in the Donetsk region.  It appears they are working with sympathetic factions inside Russia (not necessarily the Kremlin) and neighboring territories, who are supplying them with powerful munitions like the Buk rocket launcher, which was apparently used to bring this plane down.  If this source is to be trusted, there is voice confirmation of separatist leaders admitting to the attack.  They apparently thought it was a disguised Ukrainian army transit plane.  There were other reports posted on Youtube, but they were taken down soon afterward when it became known it was a civilian airline carrying nearly 300 passengers.

I guess no one figured the rockets could reach 10,000 meters, as the no-fly zone was set at 7000 meters, but they did and now the separatists are forced to explain themselves.  Already, Russia has provided cover with Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov condemning the Ukrainian government's claim that it was a terrorist attack and calling for a non-biased investigation.  That would be fine if the site wasn't already compromised by rebel forces with at least one black box apparently sent off to Moscow, although Lavrov went onto say that Russia would turn over the flight recording boxes to relevant international authorities.


Ever since this crisis broke early in the year, Russia has been trying to create as much distance as it can from the separatists, but this insurgency wouldn't have happened had it not been for the annexation of Crimea, which has inspired many ethnic Russians living in Ukraine to sue for similar annexation.  A "vote" for secession was engineered in Donetsk in May, but Russia has not accepted that vote.  This leaves these separatists essentially stranded, an island onto themselves, and they apparently feel they have the right to control their air space under threat of attack.

In such a volatile situation it is not only best to avoid such troubled air space all together, but also to avoid hyperbolic comments that inflame the tensions.  The insurgents essentially hold Donetsk hostage, much the way ISIS is controlling regions of Iraq.  To go into the region with any major force would be to put many civilians into the line of fire.  Yet, persons like McCain fail to understand this and try to turn a horrible tragedy into an act of war.


One can only hope clearer heads will prevail.  The White House released its official statement in more precise terms than the fiery senator.  Now we will see if Russia and the United States can bring the separatist movement in Donetsk to heel, as the two countries should have done long before.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down




A recent PPP survey showed that 37 per cent of Mississippi Republicans said they would back a Confederates States of America if a new Civil War broke out, compared to just 9 per cent among Democrats.  It gives you a pretty good indication where the Dixiecrats went after the landmark 1964 Civil Rights legislation and shows that Dixie is far from dead in a lot of people's minds.

The open feud between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel over the Republican Senate primary appears to have opened up deep wounds, but such pro-Confederate feelings aren't confined to Mississippi.  The Klu Klux Klan has mounted recruiting drives in several states, notably South Carolina and Georgia where they indiscriminately left "goodie bags" on door steps with the hope of luring persons who are upset about the ongoing immigration "crisis."

Yet, anytime someone brings up race the radical right seems to cringe as if we live in a post-racial society.  Eric Holder once again came under fire for making racially-charged statements in a recent interview with ABC News.  Conservative pundits were quick to jump on these comments, claiming he was race-bating.

Of course there was no such race-bating in Mississippi when Chris McDaniel's camp called for election monitors in the run-off, afraid Black Democrats would vote twice in the cross-over primaries?  No such proof was ever presented, yet McDaniel has yet to admit defeat.  He's gotten support from Ted Cruz and other conservative Congressional leaders in another run-off.

Then you have all these conservative blogs scouring local media for any form of reverse racism, like this incident where an Iowa kid was apparently considered "racist" for wearing all white and waving a "W" sign during school spirit week.  I guess we can't say The Daily Caller is race-bating either.  These stories pop up on Yahoo! news, as lead stories seem to be based on the number of hits on their search engine.


Part of the problem resides in the South's inability to let go of the Civil War.  Wherever you go you find memorials to the battles, to the soldiers lost, to the generals who led the battles.  The biggest is Stone Mountain with its massive engraved image of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  Re-enactments of the battles can stretch out for days and have become big tourist draws.  Southerners are quick to point out all these reminders are a matter of pride not racism, but for such a short-lived Confederacy, it seems to live deep in the heart 150 years later.

The Lost Cause comes back again and again and again.  It is repeatedly evoked in music.  Even The Band, which hails from Canada, paid tribute to the Old South in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."  Robbie Robertson called it a "beautiful sadness" when he heard Southerners evoke Old Dixie.  A little naive considering this was the late 60s.  Ralph Gleason, in a Rolling Stone review, likened the song to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage.  Many persons have since covered the song, oddly enough even Richie Havens, although I imagine he saw something else in the song that others didn't.

It is a beautiful song, like the softly sung Dixie, but the ugly truth remains that the Old South was institutionalized racism and that this racism continues to persist.  Evoking Dixie doesn't do anything to heal those wounds.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ballad of Easy Rider

It was 45 years ago this month that Easy Rider hit the screens and took in $40 million by the end of the year.  Not bad for a counterculture movie financed largely out of Bert Schneider's and Peter Fonda's pockets and shot on the road with plenty of drugs along the way.


This visceral feel struck home with viewers and is why the film continues to make capture audiences.  Fonda had always loved motorbikes.  He had teamed up with Bruce Dern and Nancy Sinatra in The Wild Angels and experimented with LSD in The Trip, but he wanted something more than just an acid trip in Easy Rider.  He approached Dennis Hopper saying he had a vision of two bikers riding across John Ford's West like in The Searchers.  They recruited Jack Nicholson to join the ride, who to this point had been little more than a Hollywood screenwriter.

Kalem Aftab caught up to Fonda at a BFI retrospective of Dennis Hopper.  Sad to read that the two had a falling out over the writing credits for the movie and were never able to repair their friendship.  Fonda was expressly barred from attending Hopper's funeral in 2010.  Odd that Hopper should take such offense, especially since he was given top billing as director, but who knows what animus lay at the heart of this dispute.


The film launched Nicholson's acting career.  Fonda and Hopper had initially approached Rip Torn to play the third part, but he had taken offense to the way Hopper sized up the South and the part was given to Nicholson.  Jack would go on to star in classic 70s films like Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge and Chinatown over the next five years.  Not bad for a guy who had a relatively minor role in the film as an ACLU lawyer and local drunk.  He helped spring Wyatt and Billy from jail.  He joined the ride to New Orleans but meets his end by a campfire on the way, savagely beaten by local thugs.

The Mardi Gras scene is probably the most memorable, as the two meet up with Karen Black and Toni Basil, enjoying an acid trip in a local cemetery that allowed Hopper to experiment a bit with the film, which Fonda jokingly referred to as "an endless parade of shit."  But, somehow it worked.


Fonda and Hopper treat the South as a place still rooted in Jim Crow hatred toward outsiders, in sharp contrast to the hippie commune they had visited earlier in New Mexico.  There was no room for hippies in the Deep South and the film comes to an abrupt and violent end in Florida where the two hoped to retire with their drug money.

When watching this film today it seems like a whole other era, yet strangely intimate.  The Soundtrack doesn't hurt either.  Supposedly, the characters of Wyatt and Billy were loosely based on Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, but you get the sense they pretty much played themselves.  McGuinn and Dylan did team up to write Ballad of Easy Rider for the movie.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Apes with guns



Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is headed for a big box office weekend, an estimated $70 million.  Not surprising given its post-apocalyptic theme where apes gain ascendancy over man, reminiscent of the original series.  It also fits with the current obsession with man in a survivalist mode, replacing zombies with apes.

Chimpanzees are not to be messed with and can grow to the size of a human.  Just ask Charla Nash who was mauled by her boss's 200 lb. chimp named Travis and had to undergo a facial transplant.  She is now a major advocate of more strict regulations on exotic pets.

Chimps have long been treated as lovable semi-human beings which you can dress up.  They even starred in television series like Lancelot Link in the early 70s.  After all, they only differ from humans by one chromosome.  Anthropologists estimate that humans branched off from chimpanzees about 6 million years ago, evolving into a new species.  We still share many of the same traits, which is why drug companies have long used chimpanzees as human surrogates.

Needless to say, Jane Goodall didn't serve as a consultant in this film.  Dawn picks up where Rise of the Planet of the Apes left off with the Apes now controlling the Northern California redwoods, and humans trying to find a way to revive a battle-scarred San Francisco.  There is a feeble attempt at forging peace, but man being man just can't recognize ape as his equal, so the inevitable conflict ensues.


It is pretty far away from the original movie franchise. which was based on a book by Pierre Boulle, a French novelist, who apparently meant the novel as a Swiftian satire, with numerous allusions and metaphors, notably in the names he chose to give his major Simian characters, and even his human protagonist, Ulysse Merou,  who like his Greek namesake returns home after a long voyage, only to find it much changed.  Ulysse was renamed George Taylor in the 1968 movie, starring Charleston Heston, to suit American sensibilities I guess.  The movie traded satire for irony, especially in the ending when the protagonist discovered what planet he is on.

There was a certain appeal to man as primitive being and ape as overlord.  Humans had lost their power of speech and so the Simian leaders were bemused to find one that speaks like them.  The film was so popular that it spawned a series of films that circled back to the first.    They could be viewed by the end of the 70s in "Dusk to Dawn" showings at the local drive-in, what few still remained.


Tim Burton tried to revive the series in 2001, but his costume drama fell flat and it took the studio ten years to build up enough courage to try again.  Surprisingly, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a hit.  At least it had some kind of social message, greatly dramatizing the potential consequences of using great apes in laboratory experiments, which Jane Goodall has long spoken out against.  It seems the drug companies are finally taking heed.  But, somehow we still can't get past exploiting apes in film.  You might call these apesploitation films, even if the apes are largely the result of CGI effects, and no real apes are used in the films.




Thursday, July 10, 2014

Killing Patton

Bill O'Reilly is not the first to explore General George S. Patton's untimely death.  Robert Wilcox dug into the long dormant case back in the 1990s and came out with a book in 2008, Target Patton, in which he puts forward the conspiracy theory that there were those who wanted the flamboyant general out of the picture.

Much of the theory rests on interviews between the author and Douglas Bazata.  Wilcox reported that Bazata said the Soviets were called in to finish the job after Patton apparently recovered from a car crash in Manheim, Germany.  This after Bazata supposedly was ordered by General "Wild Bill" Donovan to drive a truck into Patton's car.  Donovan was head of the OSS at the time.  Wilcox claimed that Bazata confessed all this to him in a 1999 interview, and found diary entries after Bazata's death to back up these assertions.

Douglas DeWitt Bazata was a highly decorated war veteran, who enjoyed a colorful life that had him brushing shoulders with everyone from Salvador Dali to Princess Grace of Monaco.  Who knows what kind of stories Bazata told in social circles, but it led British art critic, Michael Webber, to remark that Bazata had "a life eventful for a dozen novels."  He gave up painting and wine-making and settled in Maryland in the 1970s.  Ronald Reagan's Navy Secretary John Lehman thought well enough of Bazata to ask him to serve as his special assistant.

It's always fun to delve into conspiracy theories decades later and imagine the what-ifs, which Wilcox does by suggesting Dwight D. Eisenhower might never had become President if Patton had lived.  Patton apparently thought there was a deliberate attempt by Eisenhower to thwart his drive on Berlin.  Old Blood and Guts desperately wanted to get to the German capital before the Soviets, so that the US would get a more favorable slice of the pie.  Patton apparently held enough secrets of the war that he could have ruined careers if they had ever came to light, assuming of course the old warhorse would ever had divulged such secrets.


These seem to be more Wilcox's musings than anything else.  Hard to believe Bazata carried this startling revelation with him all those years and then admitted it to Wilcox on his "death bed."  Turns out Wilcox is part of the new Right Wing history industry that revels in such conspiracy theories.  When you search for Douglas Bazata, the various sites all seem a little too quick to point out that he was a Lebanese Jew.  There is a strong anti-Semitic note that seems to underlie these nefarious charges, reminiscent of the Dreyfus Affair.

Bazata wasn't even involved in the crash.  The truck in question was driven by Technical Sergeant Robert L. Thompson, who apparently made a left turn in front of the general's car, and the driver was unable to avoid a collision.  General Patton died of pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure 12 days later.   Complications which arose from the damage to his neck and spinal chord that had left him paralyzed from the neck down.

One can only imagine what Baba O'Reilly will do with the story.  Once again he calls on his historical sidekick, Martin Dugard, to help research the case, but why do we even need to persist in such conspiracy theories?  Killing Patton is due out September 23, and will no doubt vault to the top of the bestseller lists.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

Attempts to impeach Obama date back to 2010 when Darrell Issa considered the presumed pressure by the White House on Joe Sestak to drop out of the Pennsylvania Democratic Senate Primary an impeachable offense, as the WH was actively supporting turncoat Allen Spector, who had switched parties to support the ACA.  After that effort failed to get any momentum, Michael Burgess suggested a "preemptive impeachment," citing no specific reason other than to stop the President from "pushing his agenda."

Of course, there was the ongoing row over his birth certificate as well, which many conservatives felt disqualified him from being in office in the first place, arguing that Obama wasn't a natural born citizen of the United States.  This "drive" actually began in the 2008 primaries when upset Hillary supporters attempted to derail Obama's momentum by suggesting his Hawaiian short form certificate was fake.  This story was picked up by conservative websites and swelled into a movement led by Orly Taitz that got major media attention.  The issue finally appeared to be settled in 2011, when Obama released the official Hawai'i long form certificate, after being dogged by Donald Trump among others.  But, "Birthers" still weren't satisfied, and it remained an "issue" throughout the 2012 election.

The matter of "legitimacy" still wasn't settled that November either.  Everyone remembers Karl Rove's infamous meltdown on Fox, when he insisted there were still enough unaccounted districts in Ohio to turn the vote for Romney.  Not that it really mattered since Obama had more than enough states to claim electoral victory with or without Ohio.  Many leading conservatives felt that the White House had cooked unemployment numbers, among other impeachable offenses, to gain a last minute edge over their nominee.


Efforts to make the September 11 attack in Benghazi into that year's "October Surprise" had failed, largely because Romney had greatly overstepped by being the first to rail against the President the very next morning for not declaring it a "terrorist attack" soon enough.  Ever since, the Republicans have been trying to make this into a scandal, calling one hearing after another, claiming there was a cover-up of "facts" surrounding the attack, but never once holding themselves to blame for denying additional security funding for embassies and consulates earlier that year.

In 2013, a book appeared, entitled simply Impeachable Offenses, which outlined a host of reasons why Obama should be removed from office.  One assumes Sarah Palin read the book (or at least someone prepared a punch list for her) as she claims to have 25 reasons to impeach the President, first and foremost the immigration crisis currently unfolding along the Texas border, which has Obama visiting The Lone Star state, much to Governor Perry's chagrin.

Sarah, like the growing cackle of conservative magpies, feels that the President has greatly overstepped his authority on everything from immigration to the Affordable Care Act, which is what has compelled House Speaker John Boehner to threaten a law suit against the President, while Republicans wait to see how the midterms shake out.  I suppose they imagine they can gain enough of a groundswell among dissatisfied voters to overturn the Senate this Fall, but it would take an enormous swing to get the number of Senators needed to uphold an impeachment vote by the House, as the Constitution requires a two-thirds Senate majority to confirm such a decision.  Republicans would have to win every single Senate seat up for election, and even then they would fall one vote short of a two-thirds majority.


It appears to be enough to create the air of impeachment in the midterms to try to make this election once again about Obama, rather than the incompetence displayed by Republicans these past six years, as they really have no grounds for impeachment.  Even Ted Cruz seems to realize this.  However, a simple majority would be enough for Republicans in the Senate to exercise the "nuclear option" on bills put forward by the Republican House, such as one repealing "Obamacare," which remains their favorite pet cause.

They figure if they get enough people incensed over the ongoing border crisis, they might just turn out enough Democratic senators to gain the majority.  One would like to think that Americans are inured to this type of politics, but you never can tell.