Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Running Through the Jungle

That jungle is here. The U S of A. The conservative mind would like us to believe that we'd all be safer carrying a weapon (or at least, "feel" safer). When John Fogerty wrote (and the Creedence Clearwater Revival recorded) his prophetic 1970's, Run Through the Jungle, it was thought that, along with many of his other songs, the jungle he was referring to was Vietnam. Wrong. It was his plea, still unanswered, that some gun control sanity transpires -- here. The lyrics refer to 200 million guns -- then the population of the United States....

Run Through The Jungle

Whoa, thought it was a nightmare,
Lo, it's all so true,
They told me, "Don't go walking slow
'Cause Devil's on the loose."

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Woa, Don't look back to see.

Thought I heard a rumbling
Calling to my name,
Two hundred million guns are loaded
Satan cries, "Take aim!"

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Woa, Don't look back to see.

Over on the mountain
Thunder magic spoke,
"Let the people know my wisdom,
Fill the land with smoke."

Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Better run through the jungle,
Woa, Don't look back to see.

Now, only forty years later, there are 300 million people who could be armed, locked and loaded. Wouldn't you feel safer?

And toward that end, in Florida we have "Stand Your Ground," Yeehaw!!!

With the tragic killing of unarmed Trayvon Martin, by a "crime watch volunteer," George Zimmerman, Florida's "Stand Your Ground" provision has proven to be the gun-slinging cowboy's best friend. This NRA supported measure says "a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony." "Reasonably believes?" Does a hooded black youth give cause to "reason?"

Life imitating art? It conjures up the Bertolt Brecht play, The Exception and the Rule, a parable for these times, in which a merchant hires a coolie to help him cross a desert to close an oil deal, but near the end of the journey, when the exploited and abused coolie offers his boss some water, the merchant mistakes the gesture for an attack and shoots him dead. He is put on trial but acquitted as the court concludes the merchant did not know the coolie meant no harm and therefore the killing was pardonable. If the one with power kills, he may do so merely out of fear. One has to be armed to have that power and Brecht saw that as an issue in class warfare.

Let's escalate this insanity further. Guns in classrooms. The Colorado Supreme Court recently upheld a state law that allows residents to carry concealed weapons, finding that the University of Colorado's campus gun ban violates the "law." Colorado is not the only state with such a law and guns are not the only "approved" concealed weapons. In some states such weapons "may" include one or more of the following: Brass knuckles, Slingshots, Martial arts weapons, Knives, Swords, Spears, Daggers, Clubs, Electronic dart guns, Blackjacks, Sand bags, Razors. Sounds like a scene from West Side Story or Blackboard Jungle. Or something out of Medieval "Fechtbuchs." Including "sand bags?" Ouch!

My old college buddy, Bruce, who was the chairman of a high school English Dept. in Massachusetts, and also a Vietnam vet who knows first-hand the consequences of brutal gun force, was stunned to read Jeff Jacoby's March 21 piece in the Boston Globe, A Safer Society with Guns

With forced logic and anecdotal statistical evidence, Jacoby happily concludes that it is OK for students to carry guns, as "having a gun makes many people — for good reason — feel safer." Yeehaw!!!

In disgust, Bruce dashed off a letter to the Globe, but as his comments are steeped in sarcasm, perhaps the Globe thought it disrespectful and elected not to publish it. Legacy media ought to rethink its policies if it is to survive. Here is Bruce's response....

Thank you, thank you, Jeff Jacoby, for standing up for a student’s right to carry a concealed weapon. We’ve known all along that such sound arms policy would only make our schools and our nation safer, kinder and gentler. As a teacher, I have always advocated that my students be able to carry concealed weapons.

Though I live in Massachusetts where the benighted populace still prevents students from carrying concealed weapons or even visible ones (typical liberal policy that ignores the need we all have to defend ourselves in the classroom—Obama’s fault for sure), I can finally hope that one day I will be able to teach in Colorado. In the meantime, I can only hope that perhaps among my students are an enlightened few, who are courageous civil libertarians, carrying
concealed weapons in defiance of Massachusetts law.

I myself would like to be able to carry an M16 in the classroom or perhaps an M60 machine gun, and I dream of the day when this will be possible. To be sure, I would not be concealing those weapons but would be using my desk in the front of the room to mount the M60. (I note here that large arms carrying laws across the nation need to be changed. We vitally need to be able to carry automatic rifles and other large arms, locked and loaded. But that’s an issue for discussion at a later date.) As for myself, I could work out some camouflaging technique if we can get some reasonable laws passed for concealment. With columnists like you Mr. Jacoby
leading us out of the unarmed wilderness and with, I’m sure, the backing of the NRA, perhaps all students and teachers will one day be armed.

Thank goodness for the sound reasoning of the conservative voice backed by the statistics you gave us showing reduced crime and kill numbers in jurisdictions where people can carry. Thanks for not showing statistics from other pusillanimous societies that haven’t the courage or the manhood to carry. Who would want to know that those sissy societies don’t kill nearly as many men, women or children with firearms as we do? Thanks for knowing what in addition to weapons needs to be concealed. Thanks, and thanks again.

-- Bruce Rettman

Monday, March 26, 2012

Scanned Photographs

Talk about being overwhelmed. A couple of years ago Jonathan and I went through some 4,000 photographs that I've been carting around since the photography bug bit me as a kid, and we shipped them off to ScanMyPhotos in California for scanning. The preparation process is a bit involved to get it right. I was terrified to part with the photos, even via the most secure shipment method, but the time had come to step into the brave new world, and jettison the hardcopy versions that just take up space.

These all were returned along with DVD disks which, although I've seen them all, I have yet to fully organize. But in the meantime, I had discovered still another +/- 4,000, mostly in boxes in back of closets, so buried I did not know they were there. I had suspected missing photographs as ones I took with my childhood Brownie and with my father's Speed Graphic were not among the first batch. I had sadly reconciled myself to losing them, but they were among this last batch, including a "self portrait" I took with my first camera in the hallway mirror of the first house we lived in, crossing my eyes to make a big impression. I was about 9 or 10.

There were also some photographs not scannable (those smaller than 3x3 and those in poor condition), so I digitally photographed them. Furthermore, several hundred 35mm negatives turned up, mostly B&W when I did my own developing, and they were able to be scanned by ScanMyPhotos. I've been pleased by the service, their turnaround usually in a week.

So, in total, I'm left with about 10,000 images all needing review and organizing, probably something I'll never really finish doing. But as I go along with the task, from time to time I'll post some here. That will be a idiosyncratic, eclectic mix, but that may be the only way to get some of them out "there."

I'll start with this sequence, shots of me -- I'm in my mid 40's -- attempting to stay on a windsurfer off our Norwalk Islands anchorage. I remember the incident well -- I was as successful doing that as I was water skiing. In spite of being on the water much of my life, water sports eluded me. It was embarrassing at the time, but laughable in retrospect. I made up for it in other sports, anything involving a ball. Good eye/hand coordination but lousy balance.....

Finally, a scan of my all time favorite photograph. When Jonathan was born, I was working with my Nikon F and I set up a studio in the garage. I took photographs of him in his Oshkosh jeans. My mother, who was a very good artist, did an oil painting of another picture I took seconds after this one (her signature "Grandma Penny" is on the left sleeve).

Monday, March 19, 2012


An attention-grabbing article is in the March 26th The New Yorker: "Replay; As he faced an ailing economy, what could Obama have done differently?" by John Cassidy. Actually it is an book review of "The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery" by Noam Scheiber, a review that somewhat undermines the subtitle of the book, as Cassidy's opening sentence sets the stage for the entire article: "In Presidential politics, timing is everything" -- reminding me of an entry I wrote a couple of months ago.

I've cobbled together a couple of quotes from that entry, and strung them together, making a similar point about timing: "The Republicans say that by now Obama 'owns' the economy, as if a switch was thrown when he was inaugurated and a dial was set for about three years, the onset of the next Presidential election cycle.....[But] when it comes to the economy I can neither give Obama credit nor condemnation.....Capitalism is a story of inherent cycles."

One thing is for sure: we averted economic catastrophe during the Obama administration, but could have things have been handled more perfectly, perhaps so. He certainly could have managed expectations better and favored housing issues over health care at the onset of his Presidency. But he had no direct control over some of the issues that are the consequence of economic cycles, just as he has no direct control over the price of gas where geopolitical issues dominate. But we've heard Republican cries of "vote for me for $2.50 gas" Why not $1.99 or for that matter $0.99?....

Monday, March 12, 2012

Game Change a Game Changer

Last night we went to a Game Change dinner with friends to view the much talked about film that is based on the best-selling book by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The film focuses on just one part of the story, the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate and the subsequent campaign which revealed how woefully under-vetted Palin was.

As a movie, it is terrific, with great acting, starring Julianne Moore, who plays Sarah Palin so accurately (not as a Tina Fey caricature -- but rather so realistically that one would be hard pressed to tell the difference between Moore's portrayal and Sarah Palin herself), Ed Harris as John McCain and Woody Harrelson as his campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, The supporting acting was also first-rate, particularly Sarah Paulson as Nicolle Wallace the senior advisor for the McCain campaign who had to suffer as Palin's "handler." Jay Roach, the director, kept things moving at a lively pace so there was never a dull moment, an interesting film to add to his prior credits such as the Austin Powers films! The characters are so believable, Moore, Harris, and Harrelson being almost exact facsimiles of the people they portray.

So, how much is the film (and therefore the book) a facsimile of the truth? Much of the "truth" relies on the recollections of Steve Schmidt the chief strategist of the McCain/Palin 2008 presidential campaign, but Danny Strong, the screenwriter, also independently interviewed scores of people to corroborate the facts. One has to admire Schmidt for fessing up, the truth being Palin was selected for her gender and pizzazz. If she thinks North and South Korea is the same country or Britain's head of state is the Queen instead of the Prime Minister so be it. To Schmidt's credit, his regret at having gotten the Palin ball rolling led to his disclosures, particularly after Palin's Going Rogue was published, basically freeing him to talk.

An excellent follow up to seeing the film is the C-Span panel discussion on the film adaptation,consisting of the book's authors, Heilemann and Halperin, Roach, the director and executive producer, Steve Schmidt, and Danny Strong, screenwriter and co-executive producer. Particularly interesting is Roach's comments on the selection of Moore, Harris, and Harrelson, the perfect serendipity of it all. One of Roach's favorite scenes in the film is Moore as Palin watching a YouTube clip of SNL's Tina Fey portraying Sarah Palin, commenting that he's hoping Palin will see Game Change, watching Moore portraying her watching Fey's portrayal. An infinity of mirrors, befitting her media star status.

For me, the film just underscores the ludicrousness of Presidential/VP candidate selection and election campaigning that seem to rely upon the gullibility of the American electorate and their susceptibility to mass persuasion. And this is not just to finger point at the GOP as the same kind of machinations undoubtedly go on in the Democratic camp. But the GOP primaries have been especially transparent in this regard, a stain on the democratic process.

When Palin was picked nearly four years ago, I wrote: "If, indeed, the VP selection is the most critical decision of a Presidential wannabe, McCain demonstrates how seriously deficient his judgment may be. Given his age and his prior health problems, I think we, the voters, have to consider Governor Palin’s credentials as if she is running for the Presidency.....No doubt Sarah Palin is a bright, hard-working person – she certainly seems to come across as such in the media, but to possibly cast her in the role of the President of the United States seems to be just downright irresponsible by Senator McCain and as politically calculated, and demonstrating bad judgment, as some of his television ads." Game Change just reinforces what I believed at that moment.

The film concludes with the not so prophetic remark of Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, "she'll be forgotten in a couple of days." But we all know the rest of the story. And the film, Game Change is a game changer in that it's probably all true, quite unlike much of politics itself.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

PAC Politics

"Stay tuned, but now a word from the sponsor" --- the despicable political advertising condoned by the Supreme Court. The Founding Fathers obviously anticipated ungodly sums of money being raised by corporations and unions for political PACs so elections can be bought and sold by these "people" whose first amendment rights would otherwise be violated. Or at least I guess that is the Court's interpretation.

And to think we are just seeing the tip of the Super PAC iceberg in this Presidential election cycle. The Republican primaries are appalling enough (both in terms of content and political advertising). Just wait until the REAL election gets underway.

The American electorate is electronic media addicted; broadcast emails, streaming video, Tweets, YouTube, network and cable TV. Outside sleep and work, "video consumption" is the #1 activity, or, if written, preferably 140 characters or less please. Robocalls are part of the political media bombardment. Sound bites over substance.

When motivational research was being pioneered by the likes of Ernest Dichter and James Vicary in the 1950s and popularized by Vance Packard in his Hidden Persuaders, little did they know that some of those principles would become part of a giant advertising machine aimed at buying elections. Advertising 101: sell the emotion, not the pragmatic benefit of the product.

And, so in this political season, we're selling religion, and all the emotions that are attached to the same (and in a negative way, not the way it was used in WW II advertising to spur solidarity and sacrifice):

But the real selling job is just getting underway. Sell fear. Just wait until the Super P's roll out their shadowy images of their opponent bathed in a light to look like Jack the Ripper.

The firestorm unleashed by the misogynist "entertainer" Rush Limbaugh regarding Sandra Fluke's testimony to Congress fits the bill as well. Talk show radio is just another media circus of highly charged emotional invectives. This elaborate infomercial is then recycled on the Internet, passing for fact. No sense commenting on vile Limbaugh as the definitive word was posted by Jim Wright over at Stonekettle Station in his recent The Absurdity of Rush Limbaugh. But while Limbaugh's blather has led to some lost advertisers (probably temporarily), the Gingrich "Winning our Future" Super PAC signed on for more advertising! Way to go to win our future!

It is no wonder that a society that consumes movies that are more computer animated than acted, and cannot live without 24/7 video is a perfect target for Super PAC persuasion. Just fork over the bucks and try to buy an election! Sanctioned by the Supreme Court, the same folks who "sponsored" the results of the 2000 presidential election.