July 10, 2015

On the Road to literary fame and fortune?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:28 pm

crop of tent man best


What would happen if a group of homeless political activists in Berkeley offered an opportunity for a young journalist to score a scoop and a chance for a career making project? Since a good many energetic authors have endured the rigors of life on the road to write about their experiences, and since Berkeley is considering a list of proposed ordinances that will make being homeless more challenging, Mike Zint, the political activist leading the effort to prevent the historic Berkeley Post Office building from being sold, has issued a challenge to journalists covering the resurgent political scene in the famed University town. He calls it the George Orwell do-it-yourself scholarship program.

Writers ranging from the eager staff of the Daily Californian to contributing writers for various publications, and perhaps even a staff writer for the New York Times are being urged to vie for the privilege of spending a week (or month?) with the 24/7 protest at the city’s main Post Office branch and experience what life without money, regularly scheduled meals or time clocks means.

If a young writer shows up with no money, no ID, and no credit cards and is willing to spend a week (month?) living on the streets gathering material for a writing project, there is no guarantee that the work will sell, but the rookie scribe will be granted membership in a rather exclusive group. The Berkeley chapter of the fraternity of the open road school of journalism has an impressive roster.

Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote “Travels with a donkey,” and “An Inland Voyage” had a home that is now a California State Park just north of Calistoga.

Dorothea Lange was a photographer who roamed the country taking photos that provided classic images showing the desperate plight of the poor during the Great Depression. She lived in Berkeley CA.

Jack Kerouac made being a bi-coast schizophrenic the basis for the beatnik literary movement by repeatedly bouncing from the Big Apple to Frisco and back again and again and writing about it in various books. He was briefly a Berkeley resident.

Hunter Stockton Thompson rode with the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angeles Motorcycle Club and the subsequent book mad him a journalism super-star. He lived, for a while, in San Francisco.

Blogger, former war correspondent, and (more recently) occasional baby sitter, Jane Stillwater, who has circled the glob gathering interesting information and facts, has interrupted her peripatetic fact checking activities and is currently ensconced in Berkeley and is putting the finishing touches on her first novel tentatively titled “Pictures of a Future World.”

Sure, married people can write charming books about domestic bliss but even the lady from Scranton Pa., who wrote “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies,” didn’t stay there.

George Orwell’s first book “Down and Out in Paris and London” never lived in Berkeley but his first book helped establish him as a celebrity writer. The fact that his book about hard times sold well during the depression should provide some incentive for today’s white belt (i.e. beginner) writer to “walk a mile in Orwell’s moccasins.”

If writers can’t get an assignment from the mainstream media to cover the tumultuous atmosphere on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley it might indicate that the publishers (who are usually conservatives) are more into denial than willing to subsidizing a sojourn into the fascinating world of life on the edge.

If a bold and audacious writer decides to take the challenge, and doesn’t get any response to his work done on speculation, that might be proof that capitalists are practicing de facto censorship in a country that has been conditioned to be oblivious to any limits on freedom of speech imposed by financial considerations. Would capitalistic publishers institute de facto censorship based on misguided fanatical beliefs if it deprived them of a traditional source for sure sales? In the capitalists’ world, doesn’t greed trumps political principles every time?

If such hypothetical self imposed limitations were in effect, wouldn’t the discipline required to resist the urge to break the embargo ultimately fail due to greed fostered by the potential of impressive sales numbers? Hasn’t the life of a vagabond wordsmith been the basis for many literary careers? Publishers may be able to control what is available to buy in America’s bookstores, but they can’t stop people from follow sales trends that have been effective for many generations.

The danger for the capitalistic conservative moguls would be that some desperate graduate of a journalism school, who is being overwhelmed by student debt, cites the WTF factor and puts his world on the line and risks everything on a bold gamble. That makes very interesting reading for those who want to live an exciting life vicariously.

What beleaguered dad doesn’t retreat to his “man cave” and yearn for a proxy who will deliver the life of a happy go lucky, eloquent rolling stone in the pages of a new best seller?

With all the time spent on talk radio decrying the existence of panhandlers in the land of opportunity, there is one glaring factor: when is the last time a conservative talk show host interviewed a homeless person on the air? If the unemployed are not given an opportunity to express their point of view, how then does a one-sided point of view program exemplify a dedication to “fair and balanced” content?

Dirty diapers, puking babies, and Sunday morning sermons may add a comforting predictability to life and adds a shared experience bond to community living but the uncertainty of hitchhiking in the rain on a desolate highway intersection at night does not need to be concerned about being too mundane to hold the audience’s interest. The song “Phantom 309” describes the dismal experience of hitchhiking at night on a remote stretch of highway as a rain storm approaches. For families in fly-over country that song is a “Twilight Zone” episode told in lyrics and is very entertaining, but for someone who has experienced the vagabond lifestyle it provides a “been there done that” moment that rings true for many a wandering wordsmith.

(If the writer’s reaction to the plight is to utter a blasphemy and if it is immediately followed by a dramatic lightening bolt striking the peak of a mountain top about five miles yonder, that will probably be an “ace of trump” incident at a hostel story telling competition.)

The World’s Laziest Journalist has lived the hitchhiking to Frisco chapter of “On the Road” almost five decades ago and has concluded that it is better to interview the regulars at ‘Fort Zint” (the Berkeley Post Office Defense Protest) and get a vicarious look at the challenges they face rather than adopting the young writer’s sense of adventure and putting a major commitment of time and energy into a project that would be done on speculation.

At this stage of the game what would be the use of putting a great deal of time and effort into laying the foundation for a writing career that will stretch thirty years into the future?

We either do something for the S&G factor or we give it an immediate “pass.” That isn’t to say that we would turn down a spur of the moment offer of a ride to NYC – the travel bag is always packed – but road adventures are a young man’s game and, according to Mike Zint’s ground rules wouldn’t getting a monthly social security check take away the risk factor of being broke and on the move?

In “the Road,” former University of California at Berkeley student Jack London wrote: “I located and empty box-car, slid open the slide-door, and climbed in.”

Now the disk jockey will play Clarence “Frogman” Henry’s 1956 hit “Ain’t got no home,” the Eagles’ “Take it easy,” and the Highwaymen’s “The Road goes on forever, the party never ends.” We have to check Craig’s list and see about the possibility of getting a ride to the Big Apple. Have a “never saw a sight that didn’t look better looking back” type week.

February 21, 2014

Liberal Journalism MIA in Berkeley?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:23 pm

Dorothea Lange, then a Berkeley resident, took the Thirties era photo of a farmer’s wife (the image is called “Migrant Mother”) that became the “go to” image for depicting America in the Depression.  Mario Savio delivered the speech that some historians credit as the real start of the Sixties from on top of a police car in Spraul Plaza at UC Berkeley.  Morris Dickstein wrote:  “The History of the Sixties was written as much in the Berkeley Barb as in the New York Times.”  It seemed only natural to expect that in the Bush era journalists would be clogging both Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues to relay stories and photos of the famous variations of Main Street to the rest of the world.

Wolf pack coverage of the latest installment of bad times still hasn’t arrived in the university town a few miles east of San Francisco and so the question must be asked:  Has Berkeley become passé or has America’s Free Press screwed up again?

The Berkeley campus has a student newspaper and a school of journalism and the fact that the J-students aren’t covering the city’s homeless as relentlessly as the paparazzi dog actors in Hollywood may actually be the story.

Ninja Kitty, a denizen of Shattuck Avenue, finds it curious that the local politicians ignore the homeless at the same time that tourists from around come to the city wanting to take photos of hippies.  Do the tourists contribute to the politicians’ reelection campaigns?

He may have provided a Rosetta stone clue when he noted that the dynamic duo on the Armstrong and Getty radio show distort their audience’s perception of the homeless by focusing attention on the fringe element of the contingent of Bay Area vagabonds and concentrate on warping their observations and generalizations by focusing on the panhandlers in San Francisco who are shunned by the majority of the homeless community.  Why would anyone want to provide such inept attempts at journalism?

Is focusing on a group’s radical extremists an example of fair and balanced journalism?  What if a Liberal radio show asserted that the Republicans Party was populated by people brandishing guns as a way of standing their ground to protect their right to handle rattlesnakes in a religious ceremony?  “You’ll take my rattlesnake from my cold dead hands!”

The World’s Laziest Journalist has listened to Armstrong and Getty and noticed that their basic knowledge of the homeless milieu is inaccurate.  The homeless in Berkeley regularly use the access they have for taking a shower.  The homeless, who often sleep in the open, keep dogs with them as a means of having a burglary alarm system while they sleep.  Any homeless person can verify the accuracy of the folk wisdom:  “The rich rob from the poor; and the poor rob from each other.”

The hippies became known as “freaks” in the late Sixties and since Diane Arbus was known for photographing unusual people, we often marvel that she didn’t document the vagabonds in the Sixties who hitchhiked into and out of Berkeley.

Richard Avedon was hired (by Rolling Stone Magazine) to set up a portable studio at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and take portraits of all the most prominent politicians.  We’ve often wondered why he didn’t cover the anti-war protesters in Berkeley earlier in his career.

If the mainstream media ignores the Berkeley angle now in a complete contradiction of how, hypothetically, Dorothea Lang would have responded to the opportunity, we can chalk it up to unknown factors, but the nagging question remains:  If students at UCB in the Sixties used their local Berkeley angle to gain entry to the exclusive mainstream media In-crowd of the New York publishing world, why then, aren’t the Berkeley panhandlers of today in need of a press agent to handle interview requests?

If you have ever closely watched a human and a dog walk together, the dog frequently makes an effort to get his stealth cues from the human’s face and body language.  They often check to see if the Homo sapiens are emitting subconscious (to the human) clues about how the canine should react.  Is the approach of a stranger a bad thing (grrrr) or a good (wag the tail)?

Could it be that the (Sixties cliché alert!) sell out to the Establishment by Journalists in the USA has become so complete and pervasive that J-schools project the “do not offend the media owners” attitude so thoroughly that the students in Berkeley don’t bother to send query letters to New York based editors about counter culture stories?  Many of the Sixties students were eager to tell their stories in underground newspapers and the trend morphed into a farm club system of developing talent for the In-crowd in New York City (see the book “Smoking Typewriters” by John McMillian) but these days in the Fox era, it seems that the method is to make absolutely sure that Journalism students know from the start that unorthodox methods and stories are off limits and a binary choice about the capitalistic society has to be made.  “Are you in or are you out?”

Speaking of higher minimum wage rates, we are investigating a rumor that makes the assertion that some affluent college students are offering prestigious firms substantial sums of cash to land an internship gig which will give them some material to list on their resumes.

A scholar from Boston, who is in Berkeley to audit a class in philosophy, has told us that he is interested in making some suggestions to the city council regarding urban development and since that topic has a cusp area that overlaps with the needs and wants of the homeless, a greater interest in affordable housing may soon become a relevant factor in an area where tenants rights is impacting the subject of affordable housing.

Since the overall Conservative strategy has long been “divide and conquer,” circumstances, which cause a uniting of the assorted activists working on the challenges of renters’ rights, the long term consequences of home foreclosures, and the problems of the homeless, could , if they all joined forces, become a worse nightmare scenario for the champions of capitalism in action.

The World’s Laziest Journalist believes that the One Percent does not want a permanent solution to the homeless problem and consequently that topic will be revisited in future columns for years to come.

Since many of the political pundits with national audiences have pointed out that the Republican Party seems to be simultaneously alienating women, Chicanos, labor, abortion rightists, pacifists, and the advocates of legalized pot; it seems that there is only one possible strategy available to the Republicans to win the contest.

Brad Friedman, the leading Internet voice for criticism (Google hint:  Bradblog) of the electronic voting machines, with no verifiable results, has been labeled a conspiracy theorist, and so the only response to the aforementioned challenge may require a reference to the W. C. Fields quote:  “If a thing’s worth having; it’s worth cheating for.”

Stoned munchies?  Cities in the San Francisco Bay Area (Berkeley?) are finding that there is a noticeable increase in the sales of Girl Scout cookies at the locations that are in close proximity to the dispensaries for medicinal marijuana.

[Note from the Photo Editor:  A portrait of a fellow who is trying hard to cope with the new hard times will be used to illustrate this column.  Isn’t a poor attempt to imitate the photojournalism of Dorothea Lange, better than none at all?]

In “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (on page 67), Hunter S. Thompson wrote:  “History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of ‘history’ it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time – and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.”

Now the disk jockey will play Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” and the Searchers’ “Needles and pins.”  We have to go look for a news story about the new Tonight Show host, Jimmy Falon, which mentions that one of his predecessors was Al “Jazzbo” Collins.  Have a “we don’t gotta show you no stinkin’ badges” type week.

March 5, 2009

Willing to Watch Them Die Off for Tax Cuts


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