FEBRUARY 2017

FEBRUARY  2017
The same old bullshit, for 2 hundred years. First it was the Catholics - German, Italian and Irish - and then Asians, and then Jews. Whose next?

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Friday, January 11, 2008

FALLING INTO CRAP; AN ALLEGORY.

I would call it an allegorically rich environment, On Christmas eve Robert Schoff of Des Moines, Iowa, decided to unblock his septic tank by hand. Why, you may ask, and I would answer; possibly because he’s a 77 year old fart who has always been too cheap to call a plumber, or possibly because he’s a 5’ 5” tall control freak with a Napoleon complex, or maybe he’s on a fixed budget and was trying to save a couple of hundred bucks. But really, how expensive would it have been to tell his wife where he was going and to have her standing by in case he needed help? Because, he did need help; because when he reached into the septic tank the little old fart fell into the opening and got stuck with his feet flailing about in the air, while his head was suspended just inches above all that crap. And there he remained suspended for an hour, yelling and screaming for help. But nobody could hear him because he was upside down in a big concrete container buried in the earth, sort of like a great big burial vault or a crap filled tomb. And there he remained until his wife, Toni, noticed his flailing legs and called 9-1-1 and eventually two Sheriff’s Deputies arrived to pull Robert back to earth. Merry Christmas, Robert!
*
And then there was the drunken idiot who stepped into his allegory. On a recent Monday evening Bill McDonald of Durham, North Carolina, was awakened by his daughter, who reported, “Dad, there are headlights right outside my bedroom window.” When he checked Bill found a section of his fence flattened, several bushes destroyed and a damaged car stuck in his yard. The driver was nowhere to be seen, but Bill was grateful that none of his dogs had been outside at the time of the crash. Bill called the cops and Sergeant Dale Gunter responded. He was recording details for the accident report when his flashlight revealed that the driver, upon exiting the automobile, had planted both feet in a big steaming pile of dog poop.
*
Luckily the McDonalds own Snowball, a chow, and Comet, a Great Pyrenees, because if they had owned daschunds the driver likely would have escaped. As it was Sgt. Gunter was able to follow the trail of poop encrusted foot prints down Channing Court until a white van loomed out of the darkness. Sgt. Gunter waved it down and asked the passenger to step out. His shoes were encrusted with “evidence”. And later, at the station, the man, 18 year old Josue Herrios-Coronilla, blew an alcohol level of 0.11, well above the legal limit of 0.08. Josue had really stepped in it this time.
*
Last October Christopher Kelly, 31, of Lancaster, England, spent a night celebrating a friend’s birthday by mixing vodka and beer. Somehow (Christopher cannot recall how) he ended up alone, on the beach of the river Lune. There he evidently decided to take a dip, because a bit later Christopher found himself dry but without shoes, jacket or pants. He then weaved his way to the town hall, where he found an open window and crawled in. He searched several offices before uncovering a cell phone, with which he tried to call his dearly departed friends. But he was unable to manipulate the tiny buttons. Nor was he able to find a rest room in the ancient building and “soiled” him self. So he removed his underwear and stuffed them into a trash bag.
*
At this point Christopher was drunk and naked inside the Lancaster City Hall and carrying his soiled underwear in a plastic trash bag. Opportunely, Christopher uncovered a Halloween costume in one of the offices and, like Adam and Ever, used it to cover his nakedness. And that is how he left the Lancaster City Hall, dressed as the Grim Reaper, carrying a bag of stained underwear. As he wandered the streets of Lancaster, trying to remember where he lived, Christopher stumbled upon a closed police substation. And there he docilely waited for three hours until officers arrived to open the station and take him into custody. He was charged with burglary, having taken the cell phone and a camera from the offices in city hall, and given a six month suspended sentence. And that is how you fall into a pile of your own allegory and come out not smelling too badly at all.
*
Or maybe you are just so damn cute that you actually find people eager to help you escape your allegory. Such was the fate of three year old Charley Thomas, of Cullopton, Devon, England, when on a kite flying expedition he spotted what seemed like the perfect Harry Potter Wizard’s hat, and pulled it firmly down on his head. Unfortunately it was not a Wizards Cap, nor a Choosing Cap, but a traffic cone, which was now jammed firmly on Charley’s head and refused to come off. His mother explained, “We tried to pull it off, tried laying him down and wiggling him free but that didn't work. We tried soapy water but that didn't do the trick so we had to call the fire brigade to cut it." Yes, after trying and failing for half an hour his parents finally called the fire department. And, as we all know, firemen can fix anything. Forty-five minutes later six firemen arrived and, a half hour after that, after pouring water down the open top of the cone for lubrication, managed to cut and pry the plastic cone off the little kid’s unbearably cute head. His mother explained, "We shouldn't have laughed but we had a chuckle - he looked so comical even though he was a bit upset." In fact, his parents even allowed photo’s of Charley’s traumatic hat-tas-trophy published in several London tabloids so that the entire nation could laugh at their unbelievably cute son.
*
And in the year 2027, when Charley tip toes into his parent’s bedroom and murders them while they sleep, those photos will make powerful evidence of parental abuse at his trial. The traffic cone, you see, will be a perfect allegory for his cone headed parents.
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Thursday, January 10, 2008

OF THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE

I think my favorite political quote from the last year was uttered by North Carolina State Senator Steve Goss (D-Boone), in a battle over public campaign financing. One of the bill’s opponents said that public financing would encourage mediocre candidates, and Senator Goss proudly rejoined, “'There's some pretty good mediocre people out in this world, and I'm glad to be a representative of these people.” It makes your proud of our democracy “…of the people and for the people”, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, up in the Massachusetts, State Rep. Michael Kane (D-Holyoke) has introduced legislation to make it a crime, punishable by a $1,000 fine and a year in jail, for anyone who steals “…a plastic bulk merchandise container that is used by a product producer, distributor, or retailer or agent thereof which is used for the bulk transportation, storage, or carrying of retail containers of milk…”. Oh, great; first we clog the jails with casual pot smokers and now we pile in millions of college students with milk case bookcases. If Mike Huckabee was a real “libertarian” and not a “media libertarian”, he would be opposing stuff like this. And I just might be voting for him. But he isn’t and he won’t and there is not the slightest chance in hell that I would.
*
The greatest current political dustup in Idaho is not over men with wide stances but over people with no stances at all, anymore. The residents of the Lake City Senior Center have gathered petition signatures to stop the opening of the Aspen Funeral Home, directly across the street from their gathering place. 65 year old Marg Dunkle complains, “It kind of gives you an uncomfortable feeling”. I guess for and old geezer, looking across the street and seeing a funeral home is like most people looking in the rearview mirror and seeing a cop…or a hearse. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, 60 year old Health Minister, Mr. Chua Soi Lek, has resigned after a DVD surfaced showing him in a hotel room doing to a woman who was not his wife what politicians usually only do to voters. Minister Lek, who angered many Malaysian religious groups with his active promotion of free condoms for everybody, was forced to apologize to his wife and children before resigning. There was no word if Mr. Lek was seen on the video using a condom.
*
And yet again an Australian lawmaker says he has learned his lesson about strip clubs. In August of this year newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was forced to apologize for a 2003 drunken binge at a New York City strip club. And now Senator Nigel Scullion has apologized for a 1998 drunken outing at a Russian strip club during an international fishing conference that left him wearing only his tidy whities and handcuffed to a dance pole. “It was a terrific night,” said the Senator. “If you ever get an offer to go drinking with Icelandic whalers and Canadian crab fishermen, take them up on it.” But, he added, “…don’t let anyone handcuff you to a post and make sure you always wear clean underwear.” And the apology…? Well, I lied. Scullion didn’t apologize. He’s Australian.
*
But my favorite political maneuver from the entire of last year must be the one detailed by the simple headline, CHINA OFFICIAL GETS DEATH FOR BLOWING UP MISSTRESS. You’ve got to admit it is an attention grabber of a headline. It seems that sixty-one year old Duan Yihe, a one time local Communist Party secretary and general big mucky-muck in the city of Jinan, had been trying for months to break up with his mistress, thirty-one year old Liu Haiping. As she had asked, he had already bought her a house and a car and found jobs for her relatives, but Liu kept asking for more. Poor Duan was beginning to feel as if he were being blackmailed, especially after Liu suggested that she might turn him in if he didn’t divorce his wife. So with a little help from his niece’s husband, Chen Zhi, who happed to be a cop, Duan decided to let Liu down gently by blowing her up. And after the first two remote control bombs failed to explode, he also sought the help of an auto mechanic, Mr. Chen Changbing.
*
Well, they say third time is the charm, and on July 9th 2007 both Liu and her car went up in smoke and a big bang, and two innocent people walking by were wounded. Problem solved, apparently,...at least it seemed so until a week later when, tre surprise, all three men were arrested and charged with murder. Duan was also charged with bribery and embezzlement of public funds. But the big one was the murder charge.

*
Poor Duan; how could he have anticipated that the police would be interested in something as mundane as an exploding car? Sure, Chinese cars blow up all the time. You try to put your Gleem in drive without letting the oil warm up and BOOM! It’s a common, everyday occurrence. Why would the police bother to investigate something little like a car blowing up in the middle of a busy street? What, Peking isn’t Bagdad?
Duan and Chen Zhi were found guilty and executed in August. The mechanic, Chen Changbing was given life in prison. And presumably that was the end of corruption in the Chinese Communist Party.
*
Except,….on the same day that Duan and Chen were executed, 63 year old Pang Jiayu, deputy to the political advisory council in Shaaxi province, was fired after eleven of his mistresses turned him in to authorities. As they say, hell hath no fury like a woman whose husband has been convicted of bribery, unless its 11 women whose husbands have all been convicted of bribery. And that is just plain hell.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

HAMLET AND LON CHANEY ARE DEAD

I count five bloody violent murders in the last scene of Hamlet; Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, drinks poison, Laertes is stabbed with a poisoned foil, Claudius the King is stabbed by Hamlet, and finally Hamlet dies, foiled earlier by Laertes. Five bloody, violent deaths in the course of five wordy minutes; it would have been six murders but Hamlet convinced Horatio not kill himself. Oh, and we also learn that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead so that’s 8 deaths. And that doesn’t even count poor old Polonius, murdered by Hamlet, and the loony Ophelia, whose suicide is brought on indirectly by Hamlet. So that’s 10 murders, not to mention Hamlet’s father – murdered before the play even begins, so it’s actually 11 murders. Of course none of the actors actually die, but this is “art”, which is maybe why you never hear the “too much violence in films” brigade preaching that Hamlet should be “Disney-fied”. They don’t want to be labeled as “anti-art”, although I’m willing to bet it’s been tried. Maybe it would help if Hamlet’s father’s ghost was played by Casper.
*
I bring this up because of a new study released at the American Economic Association alleges that violent films actually cut down on violence by keeping all the would-be Clyde Barrows and Bonnie Parkers locked up in movie theatres for two to three hours with no drugs or alcohol and no weapons more powerful than Juju Fruits. The study also claims that violent films decrease assaults by 52,000 a year, because those prone to commit violence are certain to attend the most violent and bloody films, and are thus distracted and evidently sated, because there is no spike in violent crimes following the premier of a violent film. So, the new argument seems to imply, there must be no connection between watching violence and doing violence. But on the other hand, if economists actually knew what the hell they were talking about we would not be suffering through yet another de-regulation disaster. First we had the Savings and Loan de-regulation, followed by electricity deregulation, and the deregulation of the FDA, with attendant infected hamburger and lead painted toys, and now the mortgage bank de-regulation mess is dropping us into a recession. It isn’t violence in films we should be worried about but economics professors looking for well paid positions as “Wealth Justifiers” at conservative think tanks. Leave “Die Hard” alone. Ban the “Wealth of Nations!” Trickle down” this, you ideologue bastards!
*
The whole violence in media argument really began in 1928 when a wimpy London momma’s boy murdered his girlfriend in Hyde Park. Her offence was in wanting to break up with the bastard, but at his trial his barrister pled temporary insanity brought on by the image of Lon Chaney in the movie “London After Midnight”. It’s a damn scary image. The “Man of a Thousand Faces” wore false teeth that look like something out of “Jaws” and attachments that pried his eyes wide open. Scary stuff; unfortunately the movie was just standard melodrama, and would be completely forgotten today but for two things; in the 1967 the last surviving copy was burned up in a vault fire thus transforming it into a “lost treasure”, and the hype surrounding the court case, where despite the hype the jury convicted the bastard in less than two hours. Now why couldn’t the O.J. Simpson and Phil Specter juries have been that logical?
*
And why doesn’t the murder rate vary as violent films wax and wane in popularity? Before gory movies the U.S. murder rate was 4.2 per 100,000 in 1909, 7.2 in 1919, then 8.4 in 1929, 6.4 in 1939, 5.4 in 1949, and fell to 4.9 in 1959. You could argue that gory movies began to arrive in the 1960’s, and the murder rate soared to 7.3 in 1969, 9.7 in 1979, and then fell again to 8.7 in 1989, 5.7 in 1999 and 5.6 in 2006. It would appear the rate peaks just after wars and with harder economic times, and not according to how many pretend murders are being staged. The folks in London in 1605, who could choose between going to see “Hamlet” or a good bear baiting, knew damn well that one was pretend and the other was real.
*
Besides, the argument that “By the time the average U.S. child starts elementary school he or she will have seen 8,000 murders…” fails to explain why, after 1979, as film and television content got even more graphic, the murder rates still declined. And if the root cause of the recent peak of murders was violent and gory movies, why did the murder rates also peak between 1919 to 1939? And if violent movies relieve pressure in the society why have the rates never fully returned to 1909 levels? The answer would seem to be that “violence” in film, like sex and laughter in films, is a topic of conversation, part of the social dialog within our culture, not a causative factor upon it. We don’t want young children watching violent films any more than we would want them watching porn or movies with a lot of cursing because they are not yet competent to appreciate that, though they should morn the wasted lives of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they are not actually dead, just living just off stage.
*
And that is where we all actually live. Of course working with reality is a lot harder and far more ambiguous than drawing lessons from make believe.
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Winter Doldrums

I guess you’d call this one, “When crazy battled stupid.” At about 1 AM on Tuesday, December 4th. The driver of a Dodge Caravan was northbound on Interstate 15 outside of Victorville, California. He was doing about 80 mph, and weaving in and out of the light traffic. But just south of the Stoddard Wells Road exit he got caught behind a slower Toyota Corolla and after several frustrating miles he pulled up next to the Corolla, flashed some id, and motioned for the driver to pull over into the breakdown lane. The driver complied and the Caravan pulled up next to him in the slow lane. The Caravan driver got out and approached the driver’s side window of the Corolla and identified himself as an FBI agent. The Corolla driver asked for a better look at his i.d., so the Caravan driver punched the obnoxious slowpoke in the nose, breaking his glasses. I guess his FBI stood for “Force Beats Intelligence”.
*
The twerp then hit his accelerator and made his escape, and probably feeling satisfied that at least he had punished the 4-eyed jerk who had been annoying him for so many miles, the puncher got back into his Caravan and was about to pull away when a huge Peterbilt dump truck plowed into the rear of his unofficial FBI Caravan, instantly killing the not-an-actual FBI agent, 24 year old Mr. Kyle Barry. The Peterbilt driver was uninjured (thank God) and the California Highway Patrol decided not to charge him. They are now awaiting alcohol and drug results before guessing why Mr. Barry was driving like such a dick and why he chose that particular morning to impersonate Fox Mulder, and why the Corolla had willingly pulled over on a lonely and dark stretch of highway just because the guy tailgating him had asked him to.
*
That same night, Tuesday December 4th, at about 8:30 PM., snow plow driver Steven Jensen was making his fourth run along Highway 210 near tiny Battle Lake, Minnesota, when he spotted a man dressed in black standing in the middle of the road. Being a public servant, Mr. Jensen stopped to offer assistance. But the man began to pound on the side of the plow and tried to pull out the flags on the front bumper. Steven locked his door but still rolled down his window and asked the man if he needed help. The man jumped onto the doorstep and demanded that Steven get out and turn the plow over to him. Wisely, Steven chose not to comply with the would-be-hijacker, and as he pulled away the man jumped off. Steven called 911 on his cell phone and returned his plowing.
*
What Steven could not see was that the crazy guy then tried the same stunt with a pickup truck, actually getting his hands on the driver before being dragged about 20 yards when the driver pulled away. Shortly thereafter the Battle Lake P.D. arrived and placed the man under arrest. A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Transportation pointed out that the man would not have gotten very far very fast in a snow plow, and added, “It’s one of those things where you shake your head and wonder what the heck’s going on in the world.”
*
Now let us travel from Battle Lake, Minnesota to the “Battle of the Snow Blowers” in Levis, Ontario, Canada, and just the day before the previous two incidents. On that Monday night, December 3rd, a 72 year old woman dragged her snow blower out and began to clean off her walk. Unfortunately and perhaps by accident the machine threw part of the snow onto the entranceway of her neighbor’s home. The 43 year old neighbor responded by getting his snow blower out and blasting the snow right back across the old ladies’ walkway. As soon as he had finished the old lady came back out and blew the snow back onto her neighbor’s sidewalk. As she did so he returned outside with his blower and for about 10 minutes they blew snow at each other. At the end of that time the duelists stood in the street, their tiny engines revving and their tiny tempers flaring, until, finally, the 43 year old man leapt upon the 72 year old woman and began to choke her. At this point the old ladies’ 70 year old husband ran outside to protect his wife and got punched in the face several times for his Sir Galahad impersonation. And finally, another neighbor called the cops. It must have been quite a show before they arrived to place the 43 year old man under arrest for assault on an obnoxious old lady.
*
And finally there are the adventures of “Retriever Towing” in Portland, Oregon. It’s a tough job, towing cars, and in praising one of the Retriever managers a trade publication described it this way; “…the nature of this work demands highly developed people skills and the effective management of volatile situations…” Still, “Retriever”, whose drivers work on a commission basis, has been accused of towing cars with handicapped stickers from handicapped spots (“The driver couldn’t see the sticker in the dark.”) and still demanding impound fees before releasing the car, and towing U-Haul trailers from the common parking areas of apartment complexes. One writer posted on a billboard, “I started off being totally nice about the whole situation and 2 minutes later the guy at Retriever was holding his hand on his pistol ready to pull on me”, and another complained, “Those guys at Retriever were the trashiest scumbags I have ever come across.”
*
Owner Gary Cole has brought some of this criticism upon himself, by instituting a “temper fee” for those his staff deem to be verbally abusive. But where are all these abusive people coming from? Gary’s source for business is a company called “Private Parking Auditors”, which supposedly patrols “Parking for Customers Only” lots and calls in “Retriever”. And who is Private Parking Auditors? Well, Gary Cole is a partner, and the president is Michael Cole, his son. It makes me wonder what evidence “Private Parking” produces to convince property owners they need to give “Private Parking” an exclusive contract.
*
The “towing coordinator” for Portland, Marian Gaylord, suggests that the temper fee is unjustified. She says, “Often tow operators don’t seem to understand they are not police officers.” Proof of that attitude arrived in the Portland suburb of Grisham at about 2:20 am Thursday December 13, 2007. Two Grisham Police Officers, Tyson Conroy and Tom Pohlman, responded to a 911 call of an assault at the Kempton Downs Apartments on the 3100 block of North East 23rd street. It was quickly established to be a domestic dispute and after about ten minutes the situation was deemed to be well enough under control that Officer Conroy was released to respond to another call. It was on his way out of the building that Conroy radioed Officer Pohlman to inform him, “You might want to come down here. They’re towing your car.”
*
When Pohlman got downstairs Retrieval driver, 32 year old Steven Swyerson, insisted the car was parked illegally in a designated fire zone. Officer Pohlman responded logically, “It’s a police car.” At this point Steven locked himself in his cab and called the Grisham police station on his cell phone to complain of his treatment the week before when he received a speeding ticket in Grisham. The station eventually called Retrieval Towing and a supervisor showed up to coax Steven out of the cab. Then, at 3:37 AM, Officer Pohlman slapped on the handcuffs, arresting driver Swyerson for unlawful use of a vehicle, obstructing government administration, interfering with a peace officer and third degree criminal mischief. Mr. Swyerson was taken to the Multnomah County Detention Center in Officer Pohlman’s car.
*
Later, outside court, Steven offered a powerful justification; “I was watching my rearview mirror, the only one I could see out of, and grabbed the car, lifted it up, got out to do my business and the next thing I know, it’s a police car. I had no problem dropping it. He didn’t have to aggressively ask me. I had already dropped it and was leaving. He threw spikes under my tires”. And there it was; both of Retrieval Towing”’s favorite arguments; he didn’t see the handicapped sticker and anyway the owner was too aggressive.
*
As Cary Cole told the industry trade paper “Footnotes”, “We need to clean up our act…The towing owners are changing with the times. To those who don’t like to speak out – go back to school and take a course in public speaking.” It was advice that could have come from Al Capone. And maybe it did.
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