April 25, 2014

Beatniks, Hippies and computer geeks

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:27 pm

Nerd Life

While the whole world waits for Vladimir Putin to heed President Obama’s urgings to pull his troops back from the Ukrainian border, management has requested that this week’s column ignore the possibility of a foreign policy disaster and write one that features innocuous items and so it came to pass that the World’s Laziest Journalist was awarded a one day all expenses paid excursion to San Francisco to gather material and do some fact checking. We haven’t heard conservative talk show host Michael Savage for quite awhile but he used to be terrified that San Francisco values would metaphorically do to America’s collective code of ethics what the black plague did for Europe’s population of peons a few centuries back. With the proliferation of gay marriages and the growing success of the legalize pot movement, he must be much more frantic these days.  We thought a walkabout look at his hometown might be fun.

Last Sunday, the advocates of legalized marijuana gathered around Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park and expressed their view on the topic by committing the infraction of smoking pot. Fifty years ago when the Jefferson Airplane, the Hair soundtrack album, and Santana were all the rage, pot was a hot topic. Some folks thought that life in prison for one joint in Texas was excessive and that using Agent Orange wasn’t.

We headed right for the North Beach area that was home to the beatniks and hippies. We squeezed into the Space Between art gallery and learned from artist Chris Farris that a local political dispute was going global. A petition critical of efforts to put a fence around Huntington Park (Google hint: Huntington Park fence petition) has drawn responses from around the world. The board of Supervisors has indicated that only local

registered voters should be counted as valid signatures, but the petition posse maintains that in a city that is saturated with tourist attractions and visitors from far far away, the opinion of someone living in Ulan Bator (formely Urga) should also count.

Speaking of going global it seems that Smart Car tipping (the urban equivalent of cow tipping?), which got started in San Francisco, is showing up elsewhere and is rapidly becoming a trendy world wide prank.

While walking from the Little Italy section towards Fisherman’s Wharf, we noticed La Rocca’s Corner bar, which promotes itself as the “Home of Rugby in San Francisco.” We ducked in and, knowing that restrooms are always for “customers only,” inquired if someone who knows who the All Blacks (New Zealand’s highly regarded rugby team) are could use the rest room. The bar tender said “sure!” Since he had a great radio voice we decided to linger and buy a glass of ginger ale and chat.

We were informed that local legendary columnist Herb Caen wasn’t the universally admired personality that he claims to have been. Our bartend told the story about the time the columnist went into Harrington’s and ordered a drink, Caen’s bar tender (now standing in front of us) informed him of the price and he responded “I’m Herb Caen.” After being charged for the drink, he wrote derogatory remarks about the bar and advised his readers to patronize a nearby competitor. (And you thought columnists were inconsequential?)

We asked if locals, such as the barkeep and the owner, objected to “Frisco” as the slang term for Fog City and were informed that during WWII many soldiers (such as the owner’s father) from San Francisco were assigned the nickname “Frisco.” They shrugged their shoulders and said “We don’t care.” They added that the only person who objected to the sobriquet was Herb Caen who was from Sacramento. They added a vulgar assessment of the man who claimed the title of “Mr. San Francisco.” It is our understanding that Caen recanted and sanctioned the moniker very late in his life.

We saw what is allegedly the world’s only steam powered motor cycle at the Musee Mecanique.

As we headed back to the BART for transportation back to Berkeley, we encountered a group of adults in pirate attire. They were playing a game (at noontime on a regular working day) and while we were urging them to read our online columns to impress our editor with our popularity, they spotted Batman and went running after him like (dare I say it?) bats out of hell. We had not gone a block further when we encountered a pack of cats playing the same game.

If San Francisco is going to become a bellwether for the USA, perhaps we will have to do some future columns that examine the wider implications of the fact that voter subsidies for professional sports team owners may have met their Waterloo at San Francisco’s recent Embarcadero arena fiasco.

The San Francisco and Oakland football, basketball, and baseball teams are playing cities off against each other in an effort to get the biggest and best deals from their hometown. If San Francisco can’t come up with new economic advantages and incentives, well then maybe San Jose can.

As long as the teams stay where they are, the wheeling and dealing doesn’t matter to team fans and the political wonks have enough on their plates already and don’t have the time to read up on the political backroom strategies needed by anxious politicians who want the sports fans who are registered voters to stay content.

Rent affects all Golden State tenants and San Francisco’s battles over the Ellis Act might change the game completely. Hence it makes sense for groups such as the Marina (del Rey) Tenants Association to read up on and be well informed about the changes to the Ellis Act that are being urged by San Francisco landlords.

The mid term elections are a bit more than six months away and the Presidential election is about two and a half years down the road. Long and intricate assessments of the local stories can not be used for the entire intervening time frame at a time when skim reading is gaining popularity. Run more than one extended analysis of the problem and it is very likely the regular readers will become bored and restless.

The World’s Laziest Journalist will have to intersperse team moves, rent control, and fencing off public parks with more frivolous items such as asking: “If Golden Boy’s pizza isn’t proclaimed the best, then why is it the most popular?” (Could the locals bar’s genial atmosphere be the answer?)

We understand that our alma mater has an chapter of the alumnae society based in San Francisco and that makes us wonder why in the era of computer doesn’t the college website have a way to list all the class members of every year’s graduating classes with an asterisk by the names of each class member who is known to have gone on ahead to the great lecture hall in the sky? That, in turn, makes us wonder: Do the underachievers live longer? Does some institution of higher learning need to do a study on that very question?

The hopes for finding survivors in the Korean boat tragedy are fading rapidly but didja know that after the U. S. S. Arizona was sunk at Pearl Harbor rescue workers reported that responses to their banging on the pipes were heard until after New Year’s Day?

We picked up the latest copy of SF Weekly that asserts on the cover that smartphone theft is “a billion-dollar part of the business model” for the various companies associated with that product.

In addition to the challenge of keeping the audience amused and entertained until the electronic voting machines deliver the indisputable election results to a world wide audience breathlessly awaiting the loser’s concession speech, the World’s Laziest Journalist makes an effort to take photos that will draw more eyes to the weekly example of gonzo punditry.

[Note from the Photo editor: Some of the participants in the 4-20 festivities embraced Scott McKenzie’s decades old advice: “If you’re going to San Francisco, wear a flower in your hair.”]

While we were looking for items to use in this column, we learned that there was a search/contest that was looking for stories using just 10 words or less. (Google hint: gothamwriters dot com forward slash tenwordstory) Their contest was inspired by the legend that Hemingway won a bet about such a short story. His entire story will serve as our closing quote: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.”

Now the disk jockey will play Apogee Sound Club’s song “Norfoked,” Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” and Moby Grape’s “Trucking Man.” We have to go see “Finding Vivian Maier.” Have a “Decisive Moment” type week.

April 24, 2014

Back when LSD was legal, traveling was really cheap!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jane Stillwater @ 11:35 am


I love to travel and visit new places — but it’s truly a sad fact of life that in order to go see the world, you really do need to have money. And lots and lots of it too. Oligarchs have it I don’t.

For example, it’s a whole lot easier to be a hot-shot war correspondent if you actually possess the airfare necessary to arrive at said war. Syria? Ukraine? Venezuela? Israel-Palestine? Somalia? The Congo? Or any one of the other 134 places in this world where U.S. armed forces have bases and another war might break out at any minute or the CIA might start another “Color Revolution”?,_secret_wars_and_black_ops_blowback/

The only way that I can get to these places cheaply is to join the Marines!

But I’ve also figured out another way to travel safely and cheaply to exciting and exotic places: Just pack my bags and travel to all those wondrous and profound places that exist inside of my own mind — instead of outside of it.

Back in 1965 when I was living on the infamous Lower East Side of New York City, LSD was still legal — and Sandoz pharmaceuticals in Switzerland was kind enough to produce a laboratory-grade LSD that one could easily get one’s hands on. Taking trips back then was easy and cheap — you simply took journeys deep into the depths of your own mind. But that’s not possible any more.

In the last 15 years, I have been all over the whole freaking world, been to every state in the Union except Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Kentucky, set foot on all seven continents, visited every important religious shrine I could think of and toured every major war zone in the Middle East except Libya and Syria.

But how far into the inside my own brain have I ever gone? Since LSD became a controlled substance? And peyote, mescalin, ayahuasca and magic mushrooms became so hard to get? Not very far.

Of course I have traveled short distances into the Outback of my brain with the help of various hypnotists — and that must count for something, right?

And I can always dream about traveling the world. Dreams are free.

What if you knew that every single night of your life, you could look forward to visiting, say, Tel Aviv and Tahiti? Or Paris and Pakistan? Or Kandahar and Kentucky…. Life would suddenly become a whole lot more fun.
And speaking of dreaming, there’s another possibility of sneaking inside of our dream worlds — by practicing a technique called lucid dreaming. But I haven’t mastered it yet so far either.

For several years during the infamous 1970s, I used to sit cross-legged and listen to a Tibetan lama go on and on about what happens to us in the Dream Bardo. So I made up a bumper-sticker for my car that read, “Lost in the Bardo again!” And I think I’m still am lost in the Dream Bardo — but when I wake up, I can’t remember a damn thing. And then there was all that dream-training I went through in Subud. Not a clue what good that did either.

Because who the freak knows what goes on in our dreams? By definition, we are all sound asleep.

So I ask you. Have I ever really gotten right down to it, packed my suitcase, girded my loins and actually traveled very far into that scary and unknown country of the mind? Not so much — at least not since the 1960s. So this is the country where I want to go next.

Any suggestions on where I can buy a ticket to go there? Or how to reserve a few nights at the Neo-Cortex Hotel?

PS: Most Americans really, really do not want to go there — back inside of their own brains. They seem to want to do anything that they can to avoid it, in fact. They leave the TV on 24/7, let infomercials and talk-radio hosts do their thinking for them, never take out their ear-buds, and shop til they drop in malls designed to distract people from thinking. Plus all too many Americans immediately attempt to get stinking drunk at the very first sign that an inner journey might be about to begin.

“Know thyself,” Socrates once said.

Most Americans seem to shudder at the thought.

PPS: The interior of our brains contains the good, the bad and the ugly — not just Einstein-like thoughts. Sure, we might discover another Theory of Relativity. But our brains are also the places where our worst nightmares are stored. Are we ready for that as well? As well as for all the good stuff? Sure, why not.

Just view all that bad stuff in our brains as a Oscar-quality horror movie and then just relax and enjoy being scared out of our minds. Or into them, as it were.

Also, it seems like such a waste that most consciousness-expanding substances are now labeled “controlled,” and can’t even be legally used by mental-health professionals to further explore the human brain, or in religious ceremonies to get ourselves nearer to spirituality, or by cancer patients to help still their fears of impending death. But cigarettes are legal. And so is booze. And Prozac. How come only the mind-numbing stuff gets legalized?

PPPS: Another reason why traveling inside of my brain is important to me: I am so badly frustrated that the world as we know it today will soon come to an end and yet nobody seems to care or to act in a responsible way to solve all our myriad problems.

If only I could get inside of my own mind, tap into that incredible resource, find a goal or a plan that would work and then Just Do It, I wouldn’t have to lie awake nights worrying so much about all the crazy-bad trouble that human beings have gotten themselves into so far.

PPPPS: Cattle-rustling is NOT patriotic. So what is? Stopping climate change and jailing sleazy banksters and un-electing corrupt politicians.

April 21, 2014

Sixties Flashback

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:22 pm

Going to Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park on Sunday April 20, 2014, was, for the World’s Laziest Journalist, as close to experiencing time travel as we will probably ever get because it revived some very old dormant memories.  People who support the legalization of marijuana were going to go there to urge the decriminalization of the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

Doing a column that used the idea that smoking dried banana peels was just as effective and not illegal seemed like a good way to get a led for a column that used the “Mellow Yellow” fad as a basis for opening a gap in the debating community that has decreed that using the “conspiracy theory” label is an irrefutable gambit that kills all (no exceptions!) controversial topics just as effectively as saying “check and checkmate” ends a chess game.

“Smoking Typewriters,” a history of the alternative media in the USA, by John McMillian, covered the topic of the banana peel as a quick legal pathway to a psychedelic high in Chapter Three.  It is portrayed as being an elaborate hippie practical joke.

Of all the topics in the Conspiracy Hall of Fame wing of the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory’s Reference building, the idea that bananas can be used as a legal substitute for pot is the only one that is subject to a definitive fact checking experiment at home.

A sixties era song described a scene with the young girls coming to the canyon and if they flock to Hippie Hill then the young men will follow as surely as (insert trite cliché here).

Watching the young people’s enthusiastic efforts to play music, dance, and smoke pot seemed like a textbook perfect example of the contention that John Beckman makes in his new book “American Fun,” that fun and rebellion being interdependent has been an American tradition since long before the first beatnik was born.

How effective was the effort to recapture a Sixties moment in early 2014?  Seeing the Cracker Family Circus (they have a Facebook page) play near Hippie Hill did remind the World’s Laziest Journalist of seeing another band perform in the same place in 1969.  Was it the Jefferson Airplane (they have a Facebook page, too.)?

The “flower power” aspect of the day was not lost on a columnist who did check out more than one “Be-in” back when they were a newsworthy aspect of the pop culture scene.

Student maxim:  “If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t really there.”

Now the disk jockey will play Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair),” Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow,” and the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.”  We have to go dig up a column for Friday.  Have a “Gr-o-o-o-o-vy day” type week.

April 18, 2014

Adventures in taxes: “Jail or No Jail”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 10:29 am

A friend of mine just told me about a friend of his who, for the past several years, has had to spend every single weekend of his life cooped up in jail. Every single weekend, week in and week out, this guy goes to jail — with free room and board provided at the taxpayers’ expense. “But, why?” you might ask. Because the guy steadfastly refuses to pay that portion of his federal income tax that goes toward unnecessary wars.

But many huge US-based multi-national corporations also refuse to pay any kind of federal tax at all. So shouldn’t their CEOs be spending weekends in jail as well?
Taxes are supposed to be a way that all of us Americans can pool our money together in order to buy all that expensive stuff that we couldn’t afford to buy individually. For instance, I alone cannot afford to purchase good roads, education for my granddaughter, police and fire protection, etc. all by myself. And neither can most of the rest of us either. And for this obvious reason I approve of taxation.

But apparently a lot of huge mega-corporations have refused to pool their money with our money so that we can all afford to pay for these big-ticket items. Corporatists have a better idea: “Let’s just let everyone else pay for our share.” And then you can hear them whispering to themselves under their breath, “Suckers.”

April is tax season, of course, but it is also Passover season too. And this Passover, I was once again amazed by the poetry and meaningfulness of the Haggadah ritual words recited at Seder dinners throughout the world.

According to the Haggadah, Jews everywhere strongly believe that freedom is the birthright of every human being alive — and not just Jews. “With freedom and justice for all.” Even for dark-skinned Jews in Israel and even for Christian and Muslim Palestinians. Yay! And even for us tax-paying Americans too.

PS: At last month’s Berkeley-Albany Bar Association luncheon, our guest speaker told us all about the latest changes that have been made in federal tax law. I madly scribbled all this stuff down on some paper napkins and here it is. Hopefully I got most of it right:

“The IRS budget for 2014 was slashed by $526 million. It now has 8,000 fewer employees — but with a much bigger workload. Last year there were 3.5 billion dollars in fraudulent tax returns. And the IRS admits that it conducted 18 percent fewer audits of major corporations last year.” Told ya.

“Not many tax laws were passed last year.” Hell, not many of any kind of laws were passed last year by this do-nothing Congress — except for a whole bunch of laws sending Big Government into our bedrooms.

“The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA), passed in 2013, permanently extends a lower tax rate on individuals with incomes of $400,000 or less. It also provides for a new 39.6% marginal rate for income in excess of the above thresholds, as well as a higher rate for net capital gains and qualified dividends. And for a phase-out of personal exemptions and itemized deductions for higher-income individuals. But even with these new increases, US tax rates are still quite low in comparison with other countries.”

“Regarding foreign income reporting, there is now a Form 8938 which requires that specified foreign financial assets must be reported.” About time for that to happen! “And the penalties are stiff if you fail to file an accurate 3938.” Good. “And there are no statutes of limitation here either. Pursuit of US taxpayers with foreign financial accounts continues to be one of the IRS’s highest priorities.” But the IRS is also trying to extend its statutes of limitation in other areas too. So be aware of that.

Regarding gay marriages, “Same-sex couples, legally married in jurisdictions that recognize their marriage, will be treated as married for all federal tax purposes.”

And apparently America’s fourth-largest tax preparation firm just got busted for fraudulent and deceptive conduct and isn’t gonna be allowed to prepare our taxes ever again. “One of the more heinous acts committed by the owner involved forging customers’ signatures on duplicate refund checks, causing collection proceedings against the customers, who knew nothing about this.”

Also, when filing out your 1040, make sure you check “child support” and not “family support” because spousal support doesn’t count as child support and apparently doesn’t get as many reductions.

“The IRS assessed FBAR penalties against a taxpayer for willingly failing to report the existence of or the income from a Swiss bank account.” And the IRS has taken a very hard line regarding overstated charitable contributions too. And California taxes its residents on their world-wide income as well.

“S corporations have done well under the new tax act — exempt from healthcare taxes, etc. They won’t be going away any time soon.” No idea what an S corporation is but apparently it is a good thing to have if you are going to pay taxes.

“And roll-overs are tricky. Be very careful. You only have 60 days.” And home offices aren’t so much the audit-trigger that they once were under the new safe harbor rule — as the IRS attempts to codify repairs and improvements to small businesses.

And then the speaker also explained a lot of stuff about ObamaCare and its effects on our taxes — but I got distracted by the cheesecake for dessert.

PPS: One tax preparer told me that I owed $600 in taxes for 2013. Another one said that I didn’t owe anything at all. Guess which one I believed?

April 17, 2014

Walking a mile in Ernie Pyle’s moccasins

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 6:44 pm

Listening to an old man in a tavern in Paris claim that, as a child, he had sat on Hemingway’s lap in the same bar and heard the world famous author tell interesting stories was an experience that epitomized our concept of what it’s like to be a columnist.  For a middle class kid the possibilities to travel the world, meet celebrities, see the iconic sights, and have fun doing it, seemed like a formidable challenge.  Our efforts to find a way to achieve that goal indicated that columnists were proxies for the middle class who were assigned to do those exact things and then write up a brief report on the experience for workers who craved a vicarious taste of the world outside their hometown.

A torn and tattered copy of Ernie Pyle’s “Brave Men” hinted that journalists, columnists, and war correspondents had a front row seat for some of the most dangerous facets of life in the fast lane.  April 18th has been selected by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists to be the annual day of celebration honoring the art and craft of column writing because it was on that date in 1945 that war correspondent Pyle was killed in action on the island of Ie Shima in the Pacific Theater in WWII.

The World’s Laziest Journalist tries to mark Columnists’ Day in a different way every year.  We’re not going to do a column that recaps what Ernie Pyle did and why he was honored every year because that would become too predictable.  It may seem a bit arrogant and presumptuous to make the annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Day effort heavily autobiographical but this year it seemed that it was the best way to accurately tell the back story of why someone would want to become a columnist.

Some folks select a particularly exotic slice of contemporary living and specialize in a lifetime of examining something like auto racing for a specialized audience but for a kid in Scranton, Pa., embracing the “variety is the spice of life” philosophy, becoming a columnist seemed to be the best solution to the challenge.

Three of our heroes Hemingway, HST, and Jack Kerouac, wanted to be world famous writers.  They got what they wanted and it made them miserable.  (Two of the three were columnists.  Weren’t two, briefly, Berkeley residents?)  Berkeley writer Philip K. Dick wrote a book predicting that a world famous writer would live the life of a recluse in Colorado.  Nobody agrees with the World’s Laziest Journalist’s interpretation that “Man in the High Castle” was about Hunter S. Thompson’s career.

We think that B. Traven, Thomas Pynchon, and J. D. Salinger would endorse the idea that being an anonymous columnist living out his childhood dreams ain’t a bad way to go.

Young people at the Hostel in Fremantle who suggested that we should go to Kalgoorlie may have intended the suggestion as an elaborate practical joke because a good many travelers might not think it was worth the effort.  We had the last laugh because of our fascination with gold panning.  Travel writers are obliged to make the places they write about seem irresistible for every reader but a columnist can be brutally honest and say that if you don’t know who Fred C. Dobbs was and relish the prospect of a visit to the Prospectors’ Hall of Fame, then you better consider a different destination.

If a movie review columnist works for a corporate conglomerate that owns the TV network that broadcasts his verdict about a new flick also owns the film company that made the new release, then he might be required to announce it was a “must see” example for everyone to see.  It is rare that a movie is a valid example of the “one size fits all” philosophy.  So too, it is with travel destinations.

Being a columnist means that when the book by a teacher at Annapolis, John Beckman, titled “American Fun Four Centuries of Joyous Revolt” catches your attention in City Lights book store, there are two reasons for buying it:  1.  the fun of reading it and 2.  the chance to get an item for the next column.  Sometimes it seems that being a columnist means being an advanced scout for fun in all areas of culture.

What’s not to like about feeling a compulsion to discover esoteric topics such as snapshot collecting (See accompanying photo)  or finding out what “slack liners” do?  Being a columnist means taking a last nostalgic look at San Francisco’s art installation titled “Defenestration,” which is scheduled to be dismantled and the host building will be demolished.

Being required to go out and have fun is a great assignment.  It’s too bad that the contracting newspaper industry doesn’t offer J-school grads many prospects for snagging that plum assignment.  The odds of a newspaper writer getting subsidized to experience such antics are slim and none.

The old fellow in Harry’s New York Bar in Paris explained that the place had been owned by his father and he had inherited it.  He had spent many hours there as a kid when one of the regulars was a rookie writer named Hemingway.

If a columnist wanted to do a column about having a sarsaparilla at that place and others such as Hurley’s in New York City, Heinold’s in Oakland, and the Blue Fox in Tijuanna, then it might be a good idea to also visit Skimpy’s in Kalgoorlie.  Does the columnist reviewer Joe Sixpack ever get to go on assignment outside the Philadelphia area?

If a columnist writes for websites devoted to political punditry, then bits of arcane, esoteric information and obscure bits of history have to be strung together with items that have not saturated the mainstream media.

On the morning of Sunday April 13, 2014, while listening to KCBS radio for the nine a.m. network news we heard the In Depth program which delved into the topic of rents.  A guest casually mentioned that “we” want to revisit the question:  “Is Rent Control Unconstitutional?”  Since the US Supreme Court ruled on that earlier in the Obama era, we will have to check further into this story (and hope the NY Times assignment desk doesn’t read this column) before we do the fact checking and write our take on the topic.

When the Internet was in the formative stage, site owners and publishers were desperate to find “a unique voice” but as the corporatization of the web becomes ubiquitous, the trend is to prefer homogenized content providers.  (Think of Peggy Lee’s song “Is that all there is?”)  This week both Thom Hartmann and cartoonist Tom Tomorrow proclaimed that “we longer have a functioning democracy in America.”

If a political pundit working in the USA dares to suggest an unorthodox idea, he is immediately ostracized for being a conspiracy theory loon.  In a few short years, the political atmosphere in America has gone from JEB Bush being a pariah to the contention recently that JEB is the de facto frontrunner.  Is it a conspiracy theory for a columnist to irreverently ask: “Where is the ‘Democracy in action’ aspect of that transition?”?

With Democracy DOA and another war immanent we wonder on National Columnists’ Day, if we could have done something to avoid this mess.  Recently a comment was posted indicating that the World’s Laziest Journalist needs to put more work into the columns.  We know that if we took more time the end results would be greatly improved and with that in mind we’ll ask the site’ owner and publisher:  “Should we ask for a raise (to inspire the extra work) or should we adopt the philosophy of Frank Sinatra who, when told that the director of “Ocean’s 11” wanted to re-shoot a scene, responded by saying:  “That was good enough!”?

For the closing quote will use Hunter S. Thompson’s maxim:  “Buy the ticket; take the ride.”

Now the disk jockey will play Edith Piaf’s “Non, Je ne regretted rein,” Waylon Jenning’s “I may be used (but baby I ain’t used up),” and Dooley Wilson’s “As time goes by.”  We have to celebrate the day with an extra ration of A&W diet root beer.  Have a “specialize in having fun” type week.

April 12, 2014

KrakenCon: Living in a fantasy paradise

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 9:34 pm

For those of you who haven’t got a clue what KrakenCon is, it’s a semi-annual, semi-local, no-holds-barred costume parade and fan convention geared to appeal to devotees of Japanese anime comic books, TV shows and movies. And, trust me, there are a LOT of Japanese anime fans in America, most of them part of the millennial generation (I was the oldest person at KrakenCon — by about 40 years).

And this year’s KrakenCon was held in Oakland. So rather than shell out a bunch of money I don’t have and buy a plane ticket to San Diego in order to go check out ComicCon, I ended up at KrakenCon instead — where everyone is all dressed up like a cartoon character from Japan and it only cost me the price of a BART ticket to get there from Berkeley.

And as I wandered around the convention among all those hundreds of costumed anime fans, I couldn’t help asking myself, “Why are all these people so intent on escaping reality?” Well, the answer to that question is obvious, duh.

Why should so many members of the millennial generation even bother wanting to live in real time these days — and thus be forced to deal with climate change, endless war and political hypocrisy on a level that leaves our minds stunned and numb? Why deal with all that downer stuff when they can escape into a fantasy paradise filled with fun creatures like Sailor Moon and InuYasha and Squid Girl instead?

What would you do if you were under age 35?

I’ll tell you what I would do if I had been born after 1978. First off the bat, I would dump all those dirty old men on the federal Supreme Court. Dirty money. Would Kiki or Totoro or Howl put up with that kind of greed? Not for a minute!

Next I’d get rid of all those cold-hearted CEOs of huge corporations who will do anything (anything!) for money — killing off millions of innocent human beings and cute baby animals for fun and profit. Power Rangers would never do that. And neither would Asuta.

If I myself was part of the millennial generation, I’d make damn sure that no one in Congress ever took a nickel from anyone who lived on more than $50,000 per year. Yeoman democracy! That’s what I would work for. And so would Jiro Horikoshi and Naruto too. Let’s make our congressional representatives kiss our butts for a change — instead of always bending over for Wall Street.

Of course a heroic amount of the upcoming millennial generation is already doing all of this stuff right now — as well as enjoying a fantasy paradise while doing it too. And hurray for you! I salute all of you — and even fishmen and krakens do too. The fate of our entire planet rests in the hands of this generation’s idealism. “Time to release the Kraken!”

“But Jane,” you might say, “don’t these people know that anime characters aren’t really real people.” So what. Corporations aren’t really real people either.

PS: KrakenCon was totally fun. And all the hundreds of people there dressed in full anime drag must have spent weeks and months working on creating their costumes. Good for them. Who says that cottage industries are dead.

And Margaret Caragan and her truly talented special effects team from Pandora FX were also at the convention, and they promised to turn me into a zombie right there on the spot. Too late! Been there already. Already done that.

PPS: And another fantasy paradise that I have just recently learned about is called “Oklahoma”. Yes, the state. You read that right.

Apparently a hundred and more years ago, African-Americans, Indians and socialists in Oklahoma all banded together to try to create a place where there was no economic exploitation and no racial prejudice. But of course their fantasy of an on-going democratic egalitarian paradise in Oklahoma was never allowed to happen and, after the dust had finished settling, a large number of horrendous and brutal acts of suppression by government, corporatists and haters had left hundreds of these idealists dead, thousands of them in jail, tens of thousands of them burned out of their homes, and over a hundred thousand of them had their land seized right out from under them.

However at least we now know that, somewhere, these old-timey salt-of-the-earth Americans did at one time try to stand up for their rights and to create a fantasy paradise — in Oklahoma. And this July, Global Exchange is offering a tour of all of the places where this all happened back in the day, culminating in a trip to Woodie Guthrie’s home town. And if you want to go on this tour yourself, please sign up for it here:

April 11, 2014

Tanks, cars, and books

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:27 pm


Napoleon learned the hard way that waging war during winter in Russia is a brutal ordeal.  Hitler disregarded his military advisors advice and dawdled for a few weeks before implementing their strategy.  The postponement caused the German army to relearn Napoleon’s military lesson that was readily available in the history books.

American news reporters and political pundits apparently aren’t aware that Vladimir Putin would be much more versed in Russian history than they are and led their audiences to think that after the winter games were concluded the Russian leader would immediately make a military move in the Ukraine.  The American journalists’ eager anticipation of doing voiceovers for dramatic video of new hostilities in that region is getting bogged down in the spring thaw mud.

If the newsies would read up on military history they could sound authoritative and knowledgeable if they advised their audience to expect any military movement in late spring or very early summer.  Televised news thrives on expediency and so they disregard practical considerations and emphasis that Putin could send troops into the Ukraine any minute rather than taking the spring thaw into account.

[For a different perspective on Putin try reading Christian Neef’s commentary “It’s time to stop romanticizing Russian” in the English language section of Der Spiegel’s web site.]

Some folks think that a guy who was community organizer will not be pushed around by a former KGB agent who was born in Leningrad.  This columnist is prepared to bet otherwise.

While we are waiting for the news readers’ time schedule for life-and-death drama to unfold on dry ground, we seized an opportunity to see the exhibition of French Impressionist paintings at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco while simultaneously reading Christopher Moore’s speculative fiction novel “Sacré Bleu” about the same group of famous artists.

The San Francisco show may lure some French Impressionist enthusiasts from “shakey town” up to the Bay area just to see that particular exhibition and we don’t think they will be disappointed by the effort.  It is closer and cheaper than a trip to Paris, eh?

Since Christopher Moore is publicizing his newest book, “Serpent of Venice,” and he is coming to the Bay area to do a book signing event at 7 p.m., at Books Inc. on April 22 later this month, we sent him a suggestion that he might like to see the show at the Legion of Honor and we are attempting to perhaps interview him while he is in Frisco, so that we can get some exclusive information which will give us another chance to plug his newest novel again in a future column.

While sensation seeking journalists eagerly anticipate Putin’s next move, for columnists, April is a smorgasbord of topics.  The Titanic, the century old run-up to WWI, the similarity of events in the late Thirties to the show down in the Ukraine, and yet another chance to write about National Columnists’ Day (April 18) and see if we can enlist the aid once again of Jim Romenesko, who runs an “inside baseball” website for journalists, to help us in our annual effort to raise awareness of the date which marks the day when famed columnist Ernie Pyle was killed in action during WWII.

Meanwhile car enthusiasts are busy preparing to celebrate the Ford Mustang’s 50th birthday.

Since coast to coast journeys always get our attention, we will plug the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s Beer Camp effort to promote a celebration of hand crafted beer even though we haven’t had a brew in several decades.  Do they need a designated driver/columnist?

Willie Nelson is famous for playing musical gigs at American Honkey Tonk bars and since he will be playing two shows at UCB’s Greek Theater this weekend, we will henceforth be tempted to think of the local world famous learning establishment as being “Honky Tonk U.”

The Ambush Review is holding a poetry reading at the Beat Museum in San Francisco on the night when this column will be posted and so we may feel obligated to cover the event in the hopes that it will become a milestone in literary history similar to another one  that happened in that same city many years ago.

This month we intend to do some fact checking on the pop culture beat to learn more about “the Spleen” from the Mystery Men.  It seems the fellow’s super abilities are unleashed when he gets a positive response to his signature challenge:  “Pull my finger!”

NBC has caused a sensation this week by starting a search for new sit-com talent by issuing an opportunity to make an online pitch.  (Google hint:  NBCComedyPlayground dot com)

War usually gets such bad publicity that we were very glad to see that the premise for the new book “The Love-charm of Bombs,” by Lara Feigel is that the Battle of Britain provided an exciting and romantic backdrop for Great Britain’s social elite to have extra-marital love affairs.  Wasn’t it called the “live life to the hilt” approach to contending with impending doom?

If American news media stations assign some correspondents to go to Perth to monitor the MH 370 search efforts, does that mean that they will, during the wait, be expected to start filing feature stories about the charms and tourist attractions available in the W. A.?  The million square mile state known as Western Australia is called “the W. A.” by locals.

Maybe some of the visiting journalists will note that a large number of local vehicles feature snorkels and that indicates a high likelihood for some freelance assignments from America’s 4wd publications?  What journalist doesn’t love the prospect of some extra loot via a bit of freelancing done on the side?

Speaking of “appropriate setting,” Kalgoorlie is the perfect place for an American to hear Bobby Bare’s “Five Hundred Miles” song.

Fans of the film “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” might want to read about the Prospectors’ Hall of Fame which is located in (relatively speaking) nearby Kalgoorlie.

[Note from the columnist:  We have been posting a column almost every week for 15 years but due to some temperamental vintage computer equipment, we might be forced to go AWAL one of these weeks.  We’ll start taking preventative measures, but there are no guarantees in life, eh?]

[Note from the photo editor:  We illustrated the 50th birthday for the Ford Mustang by running a file photo taken a few years back at the Los Angeles Shelby American Auto Club’s annual car show.]

In “hip: the history,” by John Leland, readers are informed that George W. S. Trow wrote:  “To wear a fedora, I must first torture it out of shape so that it can be cleaned of the embarrassment in it.”

The disk jockey will play Wilson’ Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” the theme music from “Un Homme et une Femme,” and Marianne Faithful’s “Ballad of Lucy Jordan.”  We have to go inquire about how to get a press pass to cover this year’s Le Mans 24 hour race.  Have a “why do we do this, Buzz?,” type week.

April 5, 2014

America & Israel: “War is our most important product”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Jane Stillwater @ 4:41 pm

I just finished reading an article about how guns and munitions have become Israel’s most important export — and immediately I started thinking, “Hey, that is America’s most important export too!” America and Israel now have so much in common. No wonder AIPAC is so popular here and Israelis love Americans so much. They are practically twins.

And how many other countries in the world today can make this claim: “War is our most important product!” I can’t think of a single one offhand.

But now let’s take this down a few notches — from the international level to the personal. What if the best and most important thing that I could do with my own life right now is to manufacture and sell guns too? Just call me the next Sarah Winchester!

Not to teach children, not grow crops, make music or create films, not be a religious, spiritual or moral person or even to manufacture trains, buttons or soap — screw all that pansy stuff. Just to manufacture and sell weapons and guns.

“But mommy, we had guns for dinner last night!”

“Just shut up and bite the bullet, kid.”

“Can I go over and play with Jenny? She’s got a new bike?” No she doesn’t. She’s got a new AK-47.

And what if a civil war started in America? That’s totally possible. And what if there was a civil war in Israel too — between its secular neo-cons and ultra-orthodox extremists? Also totally possible. Just think of all the profits that gun manufacturers would make from all that. “War isn’t just for foreign countries any more!” could be their slogan. A buck is a buck.

PS: Never forget that Creativity is the very best antidote for War.

Both America and Israel seem to be addicted to war right now. And this upside-down sicko attitude toward what is really important in life is going to kill off both countries (sooner or later) if they don’t watch out. But creativity is the strongest antidote for war. So let’s all help people get hooked on being creative instead of on being viscous, immoral and mean.

For one thing, creativity is a hecka lot more fun. And for another, it doesn’t leave you with PTSD the morning after either.

Wouldn’t you really rather have composed the “Ode to Joy” than to have brutally and senselessly slaughtered a million people in the Middle East? When I was a war correspondent in Iraq, I saw blood flowing from innocent bodies there — and, yes, I’m still bitter and pissed off about that.

How much nicer it would have been if I had been able to take a tour of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon instead.

PPS: The Flight 370 murder-mystery still continues Now the world’s various “Command” top guys are refusing to release official air-controller radio transcripts, radar data and other documents. Does this sound familiar or what?

One would think that — after all these years of watching internet bloggers do their homework with regard to who was doing what to whom in Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, NYC, Palestine, Haiti, Ukraine, etc — that certain “Command” top guys would at least know how to get their stories straight by now. Americans no longer blindly accept cover stories and false flags like they did back in the 1950s with the murder of Patrice Lumumba and the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government, or in the 1960s with the Gulf of Tonkin false flag.

We American “Gladiators” have become far more sophisticated since then.

April 4, 2014

Trash news for America

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:24 pm

The Pravda Syndrome, according to a reliable source, refers to the condition that developed in Russia when people automatically doubted the state sanctioned version of the news.  A news story would immediately generate a belief that the exact opposite must be true.  The USA, he warned, is beginning to show symptoms of an impending epidemic of that malady.  (Starting with Fox?)

Will the Gulf of Tonkin resolution be fifty years old this year?  If so will the free press take a critical look at how the American voters got fooled?

Will the news stories about the century anniversary of the start of WWI tell Americans about how a little lie about the cargo on the Lucitania got them into a war thousands of miles away from the homeland?

How credible were the reassurances that the troops who took part in nuclear testing in the desert had no worries about long term effects?

A controversial topic can always be exempted from debate by labeling the issue a conspiracy theory and then all dissent must halt immediately.

The ecological damage done by Fukushima, any possible explanation of what happened to MH 370, and secret negotiations with Russia to avoid WWIII are all “off-limits” topics for journalists and so pseudo news is becoming a viable industry so that Americans can see something that can be extolled for providing an example of freedom of the press, which is always one of the defining examples used to motivate the poor and middle class to send their children off to war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a country that wants voters to be fully informed so that they can make well-informed decisions, giving controversies an automatic exemption from debate defies logic but since it is an American tradition, if you don’t like it . . . go jump in the lake just like the fellow did in “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Greenpeace has been asserting that the oceans of the world are littered with trash and the more false alarms that satellite photos generate for the people searching for the remains of the missing MH 370 airliner the higher the likelihood that rubes in flyover country will eventually come to the conclusion that the forecasts of impending ecological disaster could generate a preemptive response.

Part of the standard Conservative response to Liberals (including the “save the whales” faction) is to question their sanity.

Conservatives expect Americans to assume that the Oceans are pristine pure and that any time any satellite photo shows some flotsam and jetsam, people must automatically exclaim:  “That must be from MH 370!”

The Greenpeace movement has been dismissed by Conservatives as a bunch of whacko altruists who make absurd claims about seeing an island of trash in the middle of various Oceans.  If there are too many examples of false alarms in the search for the missing airliner then there may come a time when the Greenpeace assertions become uncontestable.

Shouldn’t a Greenpeace spokesperson be getting face time on the Network News to show satellite photos of the Island of Trash and predict that the debris from MH 370 may never be found?  Would a humorous “we tried to warn ya” be copasetic?  (Isn’t that a Sixties word?)

If the Conservative News Nabobs aren’t vigilant in their mass mind control duties, the curious incident of the transponder that didn’t bark may wind up being the biggest factor in a gigantic spike in the performance graph for the ubiquitous Greenpeace fundraisers who solicit funds from High Street in Fremantle to Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley CA and beyond.

The fact that the nightly exercises of excellence in propaganda (AKA the Evening News) are not mentioning the Greenpeace explanation for the false sightings indicates only two possible explanations:  incompetence or deliberate planning.

If all of the nightly propaganda programs miss the obvious through incompetence, the prognosis for democracy is grim.  If the error is premeditated, then expecting voluntary preventive ecological measures is irrational.

When the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster occurred, business owners raised economic objections to installing fire escapes.  Expecting modern capitalists to increase production costs just for (hypothetical?) extreme long range goals is unrealistic.  Greed will always trump altruism in a capitalistic society.

Isn’t the Supreme Court going to take another look at the American tradition that lets team owners grow richer by exploiting athletes while being exempt from many regulations about workers’ rights?  Don’t the corporations known as colleges have the same rights as wealthy team owners?

A past TV report (BBC?) indicated that manmade trash is washing up on the beaches on Wake Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Many years ago, media in the USA carried reports that beachcombers on the southern tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula were finding some very intriguing debris.  Specialists were sent and it was determined that the curious detritus was actually trash from the Battle of the Coral Sea.  It had taken approximately 20 years to make an Eastward crossing of the Pacific Ocean.

Would it cause a big sensation if the search for MH 370 produced some wreckage from Amelia Earhart’s missing airplane?

We wonder if any of the talking point readers who are “covering” the search for the missing MH 370 airplane on temporary assignment in Perth will on their days off go down to Fremantle and the beach at Cottesloe (we understand there is a “free” beach just North of that world famous beach) and if they will sample the local music scene.  (Google hint:  who is playing at Mojo’s this weekend?)

Abandoning the search and adopting the nihilistic “Such is life” philosophy may seem crass and coldhearted but in the Golden Age of Austerity the search can’t go on forever.

Will the Fox faithful ever get to hear a feature story about the Pravda Syndrome?

Was it inevitable that shooting rampages would become routine news and hence slip out of the “hysterical obsession” category of news stories on the 24/7 cable news networks?  It seems that historical milestone was reached this week.

The 36th annual St. Stupid’s Day festivities were held in San Francisco this week.  Rumors are rampant in Frisco that the media in-crowd in New York are asking if San Francisco is the new New York.  If they have to ask that question, that means they already know the answer and they won’t have to wait until they see it in Pravda to believe it.

[Note from the Photo Editor:  Sixties icon Wavy Gravy participated in the St. Stupid’s Day parade in San Francisco on Tuesday and we got some photos of him.  What’s not to love about a Sixties flashback?]

It wouldn’t be prudent to use a notorious excerpt from Lenny Bruce’s comedy (?) track titled “Non Skeddo Flies Again” as the wrap it up quote and so we will note that back in the day before 140 word limits were considered cool, Lafcadio Hearn, at the beginning of “Midsummer Trip to the Tropics” went on and on about just how blue the ocean would be where he was going.  We’ll use a self-imposed limit of one sentence and for the closing quote use just this one:  “The painter who should try to paint it would be denounced as a lunatic . .  . .”  (The journalist who tries to report the news [especially the countdown to JEB’s Inauguration] accurately will be denounced as a lunatic.)

Now the disk jockey will play Charles Trenet’s “La Mer,” Slim Dusty’s “I can still har dad swearing,” and Judy Collins’ “Send in the Clowns.”  We have to go finish reading Pete Hamill’s “Why Sinatra Matters.”  Have a “don’t bother; they’re here” type week.


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